Earmarks Are Back, and They’re Just as Sleazy and Secretive As Ever

After an over a decade long ban on this practice, Congressmen are again stuffed with legislation with pork barrel spending that we all have to cover.

Following passage of the House earlier this week, Thursday’s $1.5 trillion omnibus funding bill cleared the Senate. It marks the end of earmarks. Individual members of Congress have the ability to direct spending directly to their own districts. According to The HillAccording to a Senate Republicans report, the bill’s 2,741 pages include more than 4000 earmarks.

Sen. Mike Braun (R–Ind.Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) claims that the total is the work of an opponent to earmarks whose office has been adding up projects in the Omnibus Bill. is about $8 billion.

According to Americans for Tax Reform (a conservative non-profit), this includes $3 million for the Palo Alto History Museum. The group questions “The city is extremely affluent, and home to nine Forbes 400 millionaires,” This cannot be funded with private or local dollars.

It’s a valid question and could also be asked for any other earmark. Are federal taxpayers required to finance $800,000.00 for Pomona’s “artist lofts”. There is no way for the federal government to raise $3,000,000 to fund a Mahatma Gandhi museum in Texas, $500,000 to construct a ski jump in New Hampshire, or $1.6 Million to guarantee “equitable growth” of oyster aquaculture in Rhode Island. It might prove difficult to secure private financing for the last.

According to the documents made public by Braun’s office, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) According to Braun’s office, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) appears to have been one of the biggest winners in the recent earmark sweepstakes. Schumer’s signature is associated with 142 projects. This includes $1.1 Million for Sullivan County’s “rail trail”, $3M for Brooklyn Museum, $1.5 M for St. George Theatre’s capital improvements, and $3.1 million for Sullivan County’s “railway”.

Each of these items may only be a small part of the overall government spending but it adds up. The biggest problem with earmarks was their secretive nature. Many times they were slipped into legislation without public oversight. That makes them ripe for corruption—and suggests that lawmakers are well aware that many requests wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. Many times, it’s not clear who requested which spending. This makes it hard for voters to hold those responsible after the fact.

After several scandals in which lawmakers used public money to fund their personal projects, Congress banned the use of earmarks 10 years ago. Since then, members of Congress as well political observers advocate for the return to earmarks to ease government finances by providing political currency that leaders can spend.

It was a tiny fraction of the whole thing, but [earmarks were]You could try to get that person on your side,” Jonathan Rauch, senior fellow at Brookings Institution told Reason in a 2015 interview. “When you lost the election, due to procedural changes as well as because Tea Party declared that we were gonna vote against those who take earmarks,” she said.

Others who supported the resurrecting of earmarks claimed that pork distribution could be more transparently and easily tracked online. When the House Select Committee published a 2020 report proposing the return of earmarks—now to be known as “community-focused grants”—it promised that the new earmarks would be transparent, trackable online, and subject to greater scrutiny before being approved. According to the Select Committee, these grants should only be used for local “meaningful and transformative investment in local communities.”

“We laid out a framework that we thought could avoid some of the abuse of the past,” Rep. Derek Kilmer (D–Wash.The chairman of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress told The Wall Street Journal2020

What do you get in an omnibus? Hardly.

Instead, the lawmakers raced a 2,700 page bill through the House as well as the Senate in a matter of days. It doesn’t have a website that tracks earmarks or a public way to connect lawmakers with certain requests. Reporters and analysts have had to sift through the text of the bill to identify projects—which, again, are identified only by spending amounts and locations ($3 million for a history museum in Palo Alto, for example). Braun’s Office has provided useful information regarding which members asked for which projects. But that is not the same transparency as promised.

Steve Ellis, President of Taxpayers for Common Sense (a watchdog organization that exposes waste), said, “When legislators were pushing for earmarks to return they promised unprecedented transparency and limits to projects and greater scrutiny.” Reason. Ellis claims that his staff has been looking through “not legible and definitely not searchable” documents from various congressional committees.

He states, “I could tell you more if Congress produced a downloadable searchable and sortable database of that sort we were promised.”

Braun attempted to amend the Senate’s Omnibus Bill to eliminate 367 pages of pork projects. The amendment failed, and the bill passed with a broadly bipartisan vote of 68–31, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Braun: “This spending bill.” tweetedSoon after the election, it was “a disgrace.”