Paul Jacob

In the grand scheme of things — among all the wasteful, foolish, corrupting things engaged in by members of Congress — earmarks are one small item.

We read about the latest insider deals in the morning paper, but earmarks certainly don’t capture the intense media attention that congressional groping and tickling do.

Nor do earmarks account for much of the gross spending, relatively. In the last fiscal year budget, out of roughly a trillion dollars in discretionary federal spending, only $16 billion was blown via thousands of earmarks.

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So, why all the fuss?

It’s not merely that a little corruption, unchecked, tends to lead to bigger corruption. It is also that a little corruption is still, well . . . corruption. And corruption of any size, shape or partisan color is wrong.

Allowing individual congressmen to personally bestow chunks of federal money to various for-profit businesses or non-profit groups can only corrupt. In more ways than one.

The earmark culture is corrosive in the usual way one might think. Take, for example, the recent case of those seven Congressmen — cleared by the House ethics committee of any “direct or indirect” wrongdoing — who delivered $245 million of our tax dollars to clients of PMA Group — now out of business after the beginning of an ongoing FBI investigation — and the congressmen received $840,000 back in campaign contributions from those same PMA clients. (In a brown paper bag? Nope. Not necessary.)

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye remains unashamed, offering that, “The truth of the matter is that many, if not most, for-profit and nonprofit entities lobby for themselves or employ lobbyists. That is how most of them make the Congress aware of their products and services. It is no secret that these meetings take place. In addition, it is no secret that many of these individuals make political contributions.”

It almost goes without saying that Mr. Inouye, after 50 years in Washington, clearly has no clue what “many, if not most” businesses and non-profits do. He only sees the ones clamoring after him, hoping for a few scraps from the crown.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.