Monday, February 13, 2012

The Washington Post's Investigation of Earmarks

The Washington Post is currently doing an brilliant investigation into Congressional earmarks (i.e. when members of Congress allocate spending for pet projects in their district; these can often be very positive things as many voters would want their representative to find money to spend in their district however there are ethical concerns).

Congress' approval rating is at an all-time low at the moment so this just reinforces a negative view of Congress. This view was further confirmed when the U.S. Senate rejected, in a 59-40 vote, an effort by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D- Mo.) and Pat Toomey (R- Pa.) to permanently ban the practice of earmarking. Despite their amendment falling short of the 60 votes  needed to pass it, McCaskill and Toomey claimed a "small victory" because the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee - in an apparent effort to head off support for the measure - announced  that the current "moratorium" on earmarks, which is not written into law, would be extended through 2013. (

The Washington Post is well-known for being the newspaper which launched the most infamous, and perhaps significant, investigation in the history of political news reporting when its journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led the investigation into the Watergate scandal.

Here is the first part of The Washington Post's investigation:

This follow-up part of the investigation focuses on the conflict of interest aspects of earmarks:

'Some members of Congress send tax dollars to companies, colleges and community groups where their spouses, children and parents work as salaried employees, lobbyists or board members, according to an examination of federal disclosure forms and local public records by The Washington Post.' (

 Key aspects of the investigation:
'Members of Congress have more leeway than executive branch officials or individuals in publicly held companies, who operate under stricter conflict-of-interest rules that generally prevent them from taking actions that might benefit businesses or institutions where their relatives work. The legislators set and enforce their own rules, giving themselves broad latitude to take steps that can end up directly benefiting their immediate family.' (

Congress declared a two year moratorium on earmarks last year, before 'the moratorium went into effect, the ability of lawmakers to earmark tax dollars to specific programs and geographic locations was one of their most cherished political prerogatives.' (

However contrary to public opinion; earmarks were created to ensure that Congress fully represented the people, namely that citizens get back in their local community their fair share of the tax dollars they send to Washington.

This tongue-in-cheek article by Howie Klein in The Huffington Post illustrates this:

Update: February 15 2012: Congressional negotiators reached a deal to extend a payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and Medicare payment rates for doctors, while finding more than $50 billion in cuts to reduce the effect on the federal deficit. (
Is the GOP's cave on payroll tax a Machiavellian move? If Democrats can't come to an agreement with them on how to pay for the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and Medicare payment rates for doctors, they'll move the payroll tax cut and leave the other two to languish. (

1 comment:

  1. I have no doubt that earmarks have been abused (good old Lord Acton's comment about "power tends to corrupt") but abuse needs to be met with measures to regulate/dissuade abuse - not taking away the power. Personally, I think it should be (and is in the US system - sadly not in the British) the responsibility of elected legislators to decide where and how money is spent. Earmarks are a direction to the Executive (which should execute [carry out]law made by the legislature) specifying the legislature's wishes - which, I( believe, is better than a blank cheque to the Executive.

    There's an interesting article at

    What do other readers of this blog think?