Medical colleges have become carbon copies of the "self-interested lobbying efforts of the private sector," Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., President of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said at the Association's meeting in Seattle last month. Kirch addressed his concern that medical colleges may have forgone the common good to pursue private interest. He expressed concern that many medical colleges were seeking funding through legislative earmarks which, he added, are often considered to be "pork barrel projects."
The zeal of Senator Thomas Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), for ending earmarks may exceed Kirch's and certainly is shared by few of his Senate colleagues. Coburn is unafraid to stir things up but surely deserves credit for working to build bridges across party and ideological lines. Conversing with WASHINGTON TIMES reporter Charles Hurt earlier this year, Coburn credited liberal Senators, such as Barack Obama (D-IL) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), for realizing "that even though their philosophy on government is much different than mine on the role of government to be involved in so many things - that unless we control spending, the very things they want to do for people aren't going to be available."
Coburn, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, has been crusading against the overuse of earmarking. It is the position of the Free Congress Foundation that not all earmarking is detrimental to the public interest; there are limited instances when it may be useful and acceptable to obtain funds for a needed project. There is no doubt that earmarking has become an overused tool used by Senators and Representatives to fund projects with Federal taxpayers' money. Citizens Against Government Waste identified nearly 10,000 projects stuffed into appropriations bills this year, representing over $29 billion.
Coburn sent letters in late July to 113 colleges and universities inquiring as to whether they had received earmarks and how had that money been used. He explained his reasoning:
"It is indefensible for institutions of higher learning to demand more and more money from the public through tuition and tax dollars while keeping the public in the dark about how they spend public funds. The least a college or university can do that has benefited from thousands or millions of dollars in earmarked funds is to provide the public with clear accounting of how those funds were used."