Posts about Congressional earmarks and earmark reform.

Earmark Jeopardy

The Corning Leader reports that an earmark obtained by Randy Kuhl has expired and will have to be re-appropriated.

Other Kinds of Pork

Yesterday's Star-Gazette's endorsement mentions Randy Kuhl's track record bringing home "pork":

Critics call it pork but, in fact, much of the funding that comes to the 29th are dollars that House members help facilitate but don't necessarily get through legislation.

That's just not true. According to the Census Bureau, New York State received $157 billion from the Federal Government last year. That's over $5 billion per congressional district. Randy Kuhl's $20 million worth of earmarks is not even a drop in that bucket.

In addition, Kuhl's votes on individual federal programs are far more important than his few earmarks. For example, if Kuhl and a few others had voted for S-CHIP last year, that one program alone would have brought $80 million to the district over 5 years.

Members of Congress make a lot of noise about earmarks, but by no means does "much" of the money in the district come from them. That's why earmarks should be abolished. They don't do a lot for a district, but they open the door to corruption and influence peddling.

Lack of Earmarks Makes the Natives Restless

A reader who lives in the Southern Tier and attended a town meeting recently reports that Randy Kuhl's inability to deliver earmarks in the South has not gone unnoticed or unremarked. The mostly-Republican group noticed that Randy's had a number of earmarks for Monroe county, but none for his home county, Steuben.

For those living in the Southern Tier, it's also worth noticing that some of Randy's earmarks were due to help from more senior local Congressmen Tom Reynolds and Jim Walsh. Both are retiring, and it looks pretty certain that Walsh will be replaced by a Democrat. If he's re-elected, Kuhl will be a not-very-senior member of the minority party, and he'll be the most senior Republican in the area. It's hard to see how he'll increase the number of earmarks sent to the Southern Tier from that weak position.

Amo's Massachusetts Earmark

Reader Paul sends stories from Boston concerning one of Amo Houghton's last earmarks. Houghton, who held the 29th seat for nine terms, is one of the honorary chairs of Randy Kuhl's re-election campaign.

The Boston Globe story reports that Amo inserted a $50K earmark into a water appropriations bill to study the feasibility of connecting a pond in Massachusetts to a nearby harbor. The pond happens to cause flooding of nearby properties, one of which is owned by Houghton's wife. The study earmark was followed by another earmark of $728K by Democrat Bill Delahunt (MA-10), who represents Cohasset. The Corps of Engineers also budgeted $320K from a discretionary fund for the project.

The Boston Herald column includes a picture of the property. A later Herald piece reports that the town of Cohasset rejected the project.

My impression of Amo Houghton is that he's an honorable man, and I take him at his word when he says that he believes this project is in the best interests of the area. But the problem with earmarks is that even a well-intentioned, bi-partisan earmark is often bad policy. Clearly, the Cohasset voters think the project isn't essential. So it's unlikely that it would have been funded if Amo hadn't been able to use his connections to secure federal funding.

The Pig Book

WETM-TV's story about Randy Kuhl's earmark for Elmira College got me wondering just what criteria Citizens Against Government Waste used to call out appropriations as pork.  According to their site, the appropriation will end up in their "Pig Book" if it passes one or more of the following tests:

  • Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
  • Not specifically authorized;
  • Not competitively awarded;
  • Not requested by the President;
  • Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
  • Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
  • Serves only a local or special interest.
In other words, almost every earmark makes the Pig Book.  On their summary list [pdf], Randy Kuhl has $23.5 million of spend that qualifies, which ranks him 186th in Congress.  Number One is now-Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss), followed by Bill Young (R-FL-10) and John Murtha (D-PA-12).

The Favor Factory

The Seattle Times has done a deep dive into earmarking.  First, they went through a huge, mainly manual effort to compile a database of Defense earmarks and campaign contributors who get earmarks.  Then, they researched some of those earmarks, and found some incredible, yet typical wastes of money.

For example, one earmark by Sen. Patti Murray (D-WA) for a heads-up display used by Army troops was for a device that had lost an Army bid.  Most of those devices are stored in a warehouse and will never be used.  Another of her earmarks was for a patrol boat the Navy and Coast Guard didn't want, and that they gave away almost immediately after it was received.

Rep. David Wu (D-OR-1) got an earmark for a local clothing manufacturer for T-shirts for the Marine Corps.  The shirts are synthetic fabric which burns and melts easily, and are banned in combat. 

The Times' was able to correlate all of Murray and Wu's earmarks with significant campaign contributions from officials for the earmark recipients' companies.  Their database covers all of Congress, including Randy Kuhl.

The Times' effort to compile this database and track down worthless earmarks was documented in a recent episode of Bill Moyers Journal, which can be viewed online.  If you have any interest in journalism or earmarking, take 20 minutes and watch it online -- it's well worth the effort.  Also worth a read is the summary story by the main Times' reporter, David Heath.

A Model for Transparency

Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democrat from Albany (NY-20) in her first term.  In her first few months in office, she's started two common-sense efforts that both serve her constituents and increase transparency.

First, she's published her daily schedule on her website.  This might seem like a small thing, but she's one of a half-dozen members (and two senators) who do so.

Second, she's tried to increase the number of grant applications in her district.  According to a Albany Times-Union story,  she's had her staff launch a "grants central" section of her website to help connect constituents with available federal grants.  As I've explained here earlier, the grant process is far more transparent than earmarks, since it requires that grant applicants meet a set of requirements mandated by law and supervised by non-political federal appointees.

These are two simple, non-partisan, good government reforms.  The 29th deserves the same level of transparency from its representative.

(Thanks to the Albany Project for posting about the Times-Union story.)

Kuhl News: Immigrants and Earmarks

Exile at Rochesterturning, who endures the D&C blogs, found a nugget there:  Randy Kuhl has written a letter to his colleagues urging them to condemn states that issue drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants.  His colleague, Tom Latham (R-IA-4), plans to introduce a bill to that effect next week.

Rep. Kuhl's Elmira College earmark in the House Labor and HHS bill got more play in the Elmira-Star Gazette today. That earmark, which the S-G says was $200K, but an independent watchdog says was $100K, was part of a bill that passed in July without Randy Kuhl's vote.  The conference report of the same bill, which is 853 pages of unsearchable text, passed yesterday with Kuhl's vote.  Since Eric Massa has been making much of Kuhl's habit of voting against bills that contain his earmarks, Kuhl can now claim that he did actually vote for the bill in its final form.

Pork Part 2: How Earmarks Shortchange New York

Part one of my earmarks series was a basic introduction to earmarks. In part two of my series on earmarks, I want to show how earmarks shortchange New Yorkers, and how earmarks directed to small, red states come out of our pockets.

year, I wrote a
that pointed out the general inequity in redistribution of
tax dollars. In 2004, New York was 43rd in the ranking of states
receiving money back from the federal government. For every dollar of
taxes paid in to the Federal Government, New York got 79 cents back.
My piece also presented a couple of examples of deluxe airports in
North Dakota financed in large part by homeland security money. In
2004, North Dakota received $1.73 for every dollar sent to Washington,
more than twice New York's share.

Earmarks: click to enlargeThe "dollars back" picture is
for overall federal funding. The picture for earmarks is even more
grim. The chart at right is from the
Many Eyes project.
The size of the dots indicate the per-capita
amount of earmark money received by each state in 2005. The big fat
dot is Alaska, which received a stunning $1,012 per person in
earmarks. North Dakota's no Alaska, but its two senators and one
representative managed to wrangle $135 per person. You might need to
get out a magnifying glass to see New York's paltry $29 per person --
we're the little orange dot at the right.

It's no coincidence
that some of the biggest abuses of both earmarks and grants have come
from the smallest states. The href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravina_Island_Bridge">"bridge to
nowhere" in Alaska is the most popular example. The few million
dollars in earmarks obtained by Randy Kuhl are dwarfed by this $223
million bridge. It's also no coincidence the two most senior members
of the Alaska delegation are under
, and one may
have been recorded accepting bribes.

The immense direct
power of earmarking leads to huge temptation to use that power for
personal gain. Even if there's no corruption involved, the
redistribution of tax dollars favors small, rural states. Because of
earmarks, New Yorkers are paying extra taxes to fund silly stuff like
go-nowhere bridges and palatial, untraveled airports.

candidate in this race has yet raised the fairness issue, but I think
it's worth a look, especially because it cuts across party lines.
Small-government conservatives should be disturbed by the amount of
federal intrusion required to redistribute our funds to rural states.
Anti-corporatist and pro-grassroots progressives should be bothered by
the degree of corporate control exercised via DC lobbyists.

Even though conservatives and progressives should be united on this
issue, it's a tough sell in the current environment. Local and
state governments have come to rely on a steady stream of grants and
earmarks to finance local projects. Congressmen and Senators have
made their ability to deliver pork a cornerstone of their campaigns
and fundraising efforts. Neither local nor national legislators
want to risk a change in a system that they've spent their careers
learning to manipulate.

Earmarks in the D&C

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle has a story on the earmark totals for five area Members of Congress. Randy Kuhl ranked last in the list. At the top of the list, Jim Walsh (NY-25) had $35 million in earmarks compared to Kuhl's almost $10 million. According to my tally, $1.2 million of Kuhl's total is attributed jointly to Kuhl and Walsh.

In other news, I missed a story about Massa and the DCCC which appeared earlier in this week's City Newspaper.

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