A new, investigative report from the Washington Post reveals that congressmen have diverted, in total, nearly $300 million in congressional earmarks to projects that benefit them or their families directly. These projects included:
- Funding to widen a 1.5-mile stretch of road near property belonging to a Texas representative’s family.
- A $100 million renovation of a downtown Tuscaloosa area near a senator’s commercial office building.
- A $486,000 bike lane near a Michigan representative’s home.
Earmarks (sometimes referred to as “pork spending”) are nothing new. Many congressmen often point to the amount of federal money they bring to their home states as proof that they serve their constituents well — one senator is so proud of pork spending that he actually voluntarily refers to himself as the “King of Pork”! Politicians have been using them for years to bring federal money to their home states, under rules which are loose at best.
The funding riders are tacked on to large, popular bills, and therefore often receive little scrutiny for content or appropriateness. Until recently, congressmen (and women) were even allowed to trade stocks based on insider information from government hearings. (Fortunately, a new bill will likely put that practice to an end.) So, no, there is no reason it should come as a surprise that congress members are benefiting themselves through their positions.
Since congress writes its own ethical rules, none of this is technically illegal, and the people responsible aren’t even required to disclose it publicly. The rules only state that politicians and their families cannot be the sole benefactors of the spending, which makes projects OK as long as they are in areas that the public also has access to (roads, parks, downtown business areas).
Here’s to pork! May it always be free-flowing and succulent.