The Washington Post has done an analysis of congressional earmarks, and found the following:
Thirty-three members of Congress have steered more than $300 million in earmarks and other spending provisions to dozens of public projects that are next to or near the lawmakers’ own property, according to a Washington Post investigation. Under the ethics rules Congress has written for itself, this is both legal and undisclosed.
In the first review of its kind, The Post analyzed public records on the holdings of all 535 members and compared them with earmarks members had sought for pet projects, most of them since 2008. The process uncovered appropriations for work in close proximity to commercial and residential real estate owned by the lawmakers or their family members. The review also found 16 lawmakers who sent tax dollars to companies, colleges or community programs where their spouses, children or parents work as salaried employees or serve on boards.
None of the 33 were from South Carolina, although when you first look at the map, it appears that there is a mug shot looming over our state. But it’s just some guy named Jack Kingston from Georgia.
Not that the Post claims to have caught all the potential conflicts. It invites readers to help:
What do you know?
Help us disclose the undisclosed.
Do you have any specific information about earmarks in which current members of Congress may have had a personal financial interest? Or do you have any tips on undisclosed financial conflicts that could help us create a more complete financial portrait of Congress?
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Now that I’ve reported this, what do I think about it? I think… I’m still ambivalent about earmarks. I can occasionally get stirred up about them. Unlike members of Congress, I’d prefer that with rare exceptions, projects be prioritized by disinterested bureaucrats, based on criteria that are as objective as possible. But it also seems within the legitimate constitutional purview of Congress to direct spending as specifically as it likes, and sometimes a specific local project actually does have national importance. Charleston harbor, for instance. The Hoover Dam.
As for the cases reported here… well, they get into that fuzzy area that I’ve always had a problem with. The area where “ethics” is defined in terms of appearances, rather than right or wrong.
It occurs to me that, since members of Congress are certainly most likely to advocate projects in their own districts — something that is not inherently wrong, even though it has enormous potential for skewing national priorities — that a certain percentage of such projects will be “near” their own property. What percentage? Well…
If 33 have been caught doing so (and as I said, there are likely to be more), that means just over 6 percent of the 535 members of Congress may have considered self-interest in seeking these earmarks. I say “may” because this is very fuzzy territory. I expect that some element of venality entered the decision-making processes of some of these members. But all, or even most, of the accused 6 percent? I don’t know, but I doubt it.
Take that Jack Kingston guy. He sought beach renourishment money, and he owns a beach house about 900 feet from the beach. Set aside whether you think federal money should be spent pumping sand onto beaches. Is it unusual for members of Congress to help local officials get financing for such projects, whether they own beach property or not? No, it isn’t.
And that brings us to the problem of earmarks overall. Most of the time, it’s a highly flawed way to set spending priorities. But do I think this story is a major “gotcha” on Congress? No. But it will play that way. What’s Congress approval rating down to now? 13 percent? It may go a fractional bit lower, as a result of this story.
Not that it should. 84 percent disapproval seems like enough calumny heaped about these elected heads.