Chuck Colson
Sitting in the middle of what used to be pasture in Fairmont, West Virginia, stands a brand-new office building that you helped pay for. Knowing that you would insist on the best, its builders made sure to get all the options: a swimming pool, sauna, and spa. The price: $103 million. Oh yes, it’s nearly empty and likely to stay that way for some time.

If you don’t recall ordering a state-of-the-art office building in a cow pasture, you’re not alone. Nobody does. But that’s how the congressional process known as “earmarking” works.

Several weeks ago I did a “BreakPoint” commentary calling attention to the scandal of earmarking funds. Many listeners wrote in to inquire what earmarking was. Well, simply put, it is expenditures slipped into the budget by powerful congressmen that bypass the budgeting process and are authorized without debate.

While congressmen defend these expenditures with high-sounding rhetoric, their real purpose is to help themselves get re-elected. When you hear people talk about a politician “bringing home the bacon” to his district, chances are he is talking about earmarking. New roads and “glistening glass-and-steel” office buildings are campaign ads in concrete.

It does not matter if they are necessary or even wanted, which brings me back to that pasture. It was intended to house something called the “Institute for Scientific Research.” You may be thinking, “That is what universities are for.” And again, you’re not alone.

The earmarked funds for the “Institute” have raised serious questions. Its sponsor, Congressman Alan Mollohan, faces an investigation into charges of corruption. He’s alleged to have funneled $250 million to “into five nonprofit organizations that he set up.” It’s also alleged that he has enriched himself in the process.

While any wrongdoing on Mollohan’s part remains to be proven, we can pass judgment now on the system: It’s rotten; it needs to go. And the House is debating reforming it at this very moment.

Mollohan’s potential legal difficulties stem from allegations of greed. But if he had just stuck to wasting unconscionable sums of taxpayer money to stay in office, like many of his colleagues, he would have been okay—a hero, in fact. That’s the real scandal here.

Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson was the Chief Counsel for Richard Nixon and served time in prison for Watergate-related charges. In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which, in collaboration with churches of all confessions and denominations, has become the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families.
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