On Tuesday, the Washington Post released an investigative report that showed how thirty-three members of Congress allocated more than $300 million in earmarks to fund public projects within miles of their own property.
A U.S. senator from Alabama directed more than $100 million in federal earmarks to renovate downtown Tuscaloosa near his own commercial office building. A congressman from Georgia secured $6.3 million in taxpayer funds to replenish the beach about 900 feet from his island vacation cottage. A representative from Michigan earmarked $486,000 to add a bike lane to a bridge within walking distance of her home.
Under the ethics rules Congress has written for itself, this is both legal and undisclosed.
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.
Indeed, power does have its privileges. On the other hand, this is perhaps one of the reasons why voters deeply distrust members of Congress and why their approval ratings have reached historic lows. Interestingly, in response to this sobering expose, Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) released a press release yesterday asserting he will not sponsor or support pork-barrel spending.
Today's Washington Post study is another disturbing revelation about the insidious role that earmarks play in our political system, and a classic example of why Washington is so distrusted by the American people. That is why I have refused to sponsor earmarks, and have co-sponsored legislation to permanently ban this wasteful and corrupting practice. Not everyone feels that way, unfortunately. I was disappointed in Professor Warren's comments that she would play 'the game' with respect to earmarks. This is what's wrong with Washington and why we need more leaders who will stand against earmarking, not participate in it.
Certainly, one of Scott Brown’s goals as the junior Senator from Massachusetts is to reestablish some semblance of trust between members of Congress and the American people. His decision to co-sponsor the Stock Act, for example, was a major step forward in preventing politicians from enriching themselves with insider information. More importantly, though, Elizabeth Warren’s pledge to deliver earmarks to Massachusetts -- as long as 'it is part of the job’ -- allows Scott Brown to draw another stark contrast between himself and his chief Democratic rival.
Granted, according to a Pew Research Center/National Journal poll conducted in 2010, 53 percent of Americans said they were more inclined to reelect a candidate if they had brought back money to their home state. That said, however, just 10 percent of Americans – according to a survey last year – trust Washington “always or most of the time.” Thus, his decision to abstain from the practice of pork-barrel spending – at the very least – could give his candidacy some much-needed momentum next November when he faces off against Elizabeth Warren.