Are we winning the fight against earmarks?

Maybe not:

Eight months after Democrats vowed to shine light on the dark art of
“earmarking” money for pet projects, many lawmakers say the new
visibility has only intensified the competition for projects by letting
each member see exactly how many everyone else is receiving…

The earmark frenzy hit fever pitch in recent days, even as the Senate passed new rules that allow more public scrutiny of them.

from causing embarrassment, the new transparency has raised the value
of earmarks as a measure of members’ clout. Indeed, lawmakers have
often competed to have their names attached to individual earmarks and
rushed to put out press releases claiming credit for the money they
bring home.

Here is the full story.  A simple model is that such transparency imposes a large, one-time cost on lawmakers and a public relations hit.  But once this hit is taken, the new marginal calculus still brings lots of earmarks.  The "good" news is this:

…the Democratic totals are less than half  the record set by Republicans when they controlled Congress in 2005, but they are far higher than the levels just 10 years ago.


My apologies for posting this in an entirely inappropriate place-- but I think the first 15 award-winning entries for your Complementary book offer would make interesting reading!

Perhaps earmarks are a symptom of something else. Let's assume that the usual mechanism for how projects get funded has broken down.

When I worked on grant-based projects, the sequence was something like this:
1. Government department allocates a budget amount to a class of projects.
2. Department solicits proposals from those seeking funds.
3. Independent review committee evaluates the proposals on the basis of "merit".
4. Awards are granted based upon recommendations.
5. Project compliance officers keep track of progress and can turn off the funding if the project fails to progress properly.

What we may be seeing is that step 3 has been replaced by:
3. Politically motivated review committee evaluates proposals based upon which will best serve to elect or re-elect party members, or to payback big contributors.

In this case it is necessary to find a way to get projects funded that are not politically connected. This, of course, leaves things open to excess and corruption. That's why the review committees were "independent" in the first place.

Some of it may be feathering one's cap, but not all.

An interesting website for viewing the pork is -Citizens Against Government Waste...It's a taxpayer advocacy group that monitors all pork projects in congress...some interesting reads.

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