The Fighting 29th - Earmarks Posts about Congressional earmarks and earmark reform. en Earmark Jeopardy The Corning Leader reports that an earmark obtained by Randy Kuhl has expired and will have to be re-appropriated.

]]> Earmarks News Thu, 26 Feb 2009 13:01:09 +0000 Rottenchester 5462 at
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.

]]> Analysis Earmarks Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:33:58 +0000 Rottenchester 5116 at
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.

]]> Analysis Earmarks WNYCongress Thu, 12 Jun 2008 23:21:16 +0000 Rottenchester 4811 at
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.

]]> Analysis Earmarks News Tue, 20 May 2008 17:29:55 +0000 Rottenchester 4782 at
The Pig Book 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).
]]> Analysis Earmarks Fri, 04 Apr 2008 12:39:51 +0000 Rottenchester 4729 at
The Favor Factory
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.
]]> Earmarks Mon, 10 Mar 2008 12:46:23 +0000 Rottenchester 4694 at
A Model for 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.)
]]> Analysis Earmarks Mon, 12 Nov 2007 16:21:23 +0000 Rottenchester 4548 at
Kuhl News: Immigrants and Earmarks 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.
]]> Earmarks News Wed, 07 Nov 2007 21:34:11 +0000 Rottenchester 4541 at
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="">"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.

]]> Analysis Earmarks Mon, 24 Sep 2007 01:10:05 +0000 Rottenchester 4475 at
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.

]]> Earmarks News Sat, 01 Sep 2007 15:30:52 +0000 Rottenchester 4443 at
Pork Part 1: Earmarks vs. Grants Both candidates in the 29th are trying to make pork a major issue in the 2008 race. Most of Randy Kuhl's press releases tout the arrival of federal money in the district. Eric Massa has made Kuhl's habit of voting against bills that contain his earmarks a frequent topic of his press conferences and press releases. Though the term "pork" gets thrown around frequently, there's not a lot of discussion of the nitty-gritty details of federal money entering the district. Today, in the first of a multi-part series on pork, I'll examine the difference between a grant and an earmark.

Let's say you're on a town board somewhere in the 29th district. Assume that your water system is broken, or perhaps you have an intersection that needs widening. Your town doesn't have the money, so you need to look somewhere else for funding: the federal government.

There are many ways to get federal funding for an ad hoc local project. To make things simple, I'm going to look at two that occupy most of Randy Kuhl's press releases: earmarks and grants. Let's start with grants.

Federal grants are blocks of money appropriated by Congress and administered by an agency in the executive branch. For example, if your problem is an intersection, the grant might be administered by the Department of Transportation. When Congress wrote the law appropriating the money for the grant, they also put a set of requirements down for distributing the grant money. Perhaps the grant is for rural areas, or maybe it is for poor areas, or for "critical infrastructure". Whatever the requirements, the federal agency administering the grant uses the legislative guidance from Congress to create a set of requirements for receiving the grant. Your intersection must meet those requirements.

To show that you meet the requirements, you need to write a grant application. Because requirements are complicated, "grant-writing" is an art form unto itself, and consultants are often used to wordsmith grants. Once the grant application is written, it is reviewed by a career civil servant (a.k.a., a "bureaucrat"). If the grant meets all the requirements, and there's enough money to go around, your project gets funded.

That's obviously a long, drawn-out process. The alternative is an earmark, which is a targeted appropriation for your intersection. To get an earmark, you need to convince another set of folks: your Congressman and/or Senators. You call their staff, convince the staff that what you want is important to a vital constituency, and then, if you're lucky, your Congressman will insert your funding request into a bill as an earmark. Once the earmark is placed and the bill is signed into law by the President, you get your money.

This is probably a simpler process, but it has its downside, too. If you live in a part of the district full of members of the other party, your Congressman might not think that your earmark is as important as some others in the "right place". Maybe your Congressman has spent his earmarks on other priorities. Or perhaps you have a feud with him about something else. Since earmarks are person-to-person politics, your ability to get an earmark relies on your political skills.

So which is better? It obviously depends on where you're sitting. Beneficiaries of the status quo, like Randy Kuhl, think earmarks are great. In a recent article in the Corning Leader, Eric Massa's criticism of pork-barrel funding in the 29th brought this retort from Randy Kuhl's spokesman, Bob Van Wicklin:

Randy knows the district better than the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. [...] The 29th Congressional District isn’t the highest priority on their list, but it is the highest priority on Randy’s list.

Van Wicklin's argument is one commonly heard in the earmark discussion. If you're concerned with issues like corruption and fairness, you might point out that civil servants implementing federal regulations are less likely to be swayed by political considerations. Bureaucrats might not know the district, but they might know better than to fund a "bridge to nowhere", and they certainly wouldn't fund it unless there's a government grant program for bridges to empty islands.

My take on the grants vs. earmarks controversy is that New Yorkers should support neither mode of federal funding. In the next post in this series, I'll explain why.

]]> Analysis Earmarks Mon, 27 Aug 2007 13:44:00 +0000 Rottenchester 4438 at
The House Finishes Up The House finally adjourned for its August recess this morning a little after 1 A.M. During the last 14-hour session, Randy Kuhl voted against the Energy Bill as well as against a bill that would have extended and increased tax incentives for the use of renewable energy. Both of those bills passed the House.

Kuhl voted for an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which included a 6-month sunset provision. This bill was passed after the House failed to pass a bill less to the Bush Administration's liking on Friday. Kuhl voted against that bill. The AP has a pretty good story about the new FISA provisions.

Finally Kuhl, and almost everyone else in the House, voted for the Defense appropriation, which includes $6 million in his earmarks.

]]> Earmarks Votes Sun, 05 Aug 2007 14:17:19 +0000 Rottenchester 4399 at
Voting Round Up The House was scheduled to adjourn yesterday for the August recess, but a dust-up on the House floor Thursday night, among other delays, has the House at work today.

Randy Kuhl has been "Mr. No" for the past week. Kuhl did not support any of the major appropriation legislation that reached the floor this week, which included:

  • Increases in funding for the Children's Health and Medicare Protection Act This bill would have added $30 billion in funding to add 3 million more children to the S-CHIP program, which is a joint state-federal plan to insure children whose parents have incomes above the poverty line. The bill is funded in part by an increase in the tax on tobacco.
  • The appropriation bill for the Department of Agriculture, FDA and related agencies. Kuhl voted "present" on this bill, since it was part of the dispute mentioned above. Most Republicans were absent for the vote. Even though Kuhl serves on the Agriculture committee, he had no earmarks in the bill.

Both appropriation bills passed the House, though the S-CHIP authorization is under veto threat from the President. Kuhl also voted against two other national-security related bills. The first was a bill mandating that active duty, guard and reserve troops will have a home rotation equal to the amount of time they are on duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. The final bill that Kuhl opposed this week was the reauthorization of the FISA surveillance program. That bill failed by a few votes.

]]> Earmarks Votes Sat, 04 Aug 2007 13:41:50 +0000 Rottenchester 4398 at
This Week in Votes and Earmarks Randy Kuhl voted for the Farm Bill, which included a significant increase in funding for specialty crops. McClatchy has a good Q&A on the bill here. The bill contained no earmarks.

Kuhl voted against the HUD and Transportation appropriation bill, H R 3074. That bill included four of his earmarks, worth more than $600,000.

Update: Missed one: Kuhl also had an $800K earmark for Alfred State in the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriation, H R 3093, which he voted against.

]]> Earmarks Votes Sat, 28 Jul 2007 15:36:16 +0000 Rottenchester 4394 at
Earmark and Pork Review The earmark page has been updated with all available information about recent earmarks. Last week, Kuhl was criticized for voting against a bill while trumpeting the earmarks he inserted in the bill. Undeterred, he's done the same thing this week. He voted against the Labor, HHS and Education appropriation bill, yet he's also issued a press release touting an earmark for MCC in the bill. Kuhl had five earmarks worth over half a million dollars in the Labor and HHS bill.

Kuhl has also announced a couple of grants (not earmarks) for area projects. In Troupsburg, the announcement was for a new water system, and in Watkins Glen, Seneca Harbor will get some upgrades.

]]> Earmarks News Fri, 20 Jul 2007 14:10:43 +0000 Rottenchester 4388 at
Kuhl Announces New Earmarks Randy Kuhl's office has announced two new earmarks, both of which benefit colleges in the Southern Tier. Elmira College has earmarks totaling $250,000. $150,000 of that amount will go to refurbishing a hall on campus, and $100,000 will purchase science and technology equipment. Alfred University is up for $900,000, which is split into two grants for programs aimed at helping underprivileged youth.

The earmarks are in three different bills. I'll update the earmark page after tracking down committee reports for the legislation.

]]> Earmarks Wed, 18 Jul 2007 00:19:54 +0000 Rottenchester 4382 at
Kuhl's Contradictory Votes Make the Paper Today's Elmira Star-Gazette carries a story about Randy Kuhl's recent votes against major appropriation bills. As mentioned here last month, Kuhl voted against two appropriation bills that included earmarks he sponsored. Even though he voted against the bills, he still touted the earmarks on his website.

Kuhl's explanation for this apparent contradiction contains some topsy-turvy logic:

"The point is the bills passed, so why shouldn't I tell people about the local projects that were in them?" Kuhl said. "They wouldn't have been in there if I hadn't requested them."

Kuhl said he didn't vote for the bills -- with the exception of one that increased spending for veterans and military members -- because he thinks the Democratic majority is increasing spending too much.

As the article points out, Kuhl is clearly trying to have it both ways by saying that only his pork is worthy. One theory, offered by University of Rochester Professor Gerald Gamm, is that Kuhl will get away with this because "constituents are not paying attention to all the details". That may be true, but I think Kuhl will have a second explanation available later this year, after the Senate amends the spending bills.

Kuhl's vote against H R 2669, the College Cost Reduction Act, is another example of a vote against a popular bill. This bill was opposed by a majority of Republicans, for a variety of reasons. Like last month's vote against the Homeland Security bill, voting against an increase in funding for financial aid financed on the back of banks seems like a stone loser for Kuhl. However, like the other appropriations bills Kuhl opposed, this bill has yet to pass through the gauntlet of the Senate.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been making heavy use of cloture rules and the party loyalty of his fellow Republicans to control the agenda of the Senate. The ability of Republicans to block debate on bills is a powerful lever that the Republicans will use to force compromises on the appropriations bills passed by the House. After those bills have been amended, they will go back to the House for a vote. I'll wager that they'll get Kuhl's support the second time around.

The combination of Bush's veto threats, the loyalty of Republicans like Randy Kuhl in the House, and the lack of a 60-vote Democratic majority in the Senate is one that allows the Republicans to exert significant control over the legislative process. When Kuhl is challenged by the press or his opponent to explain his initial no votes, he'll point to changes in the bills to show that his no vote led to a more fiscally responsible bill.

Whether that's true will, indeed, require exceedingly close attention to the details.

Update: The same story made the July 16 issue of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

]]> Analysis Earmarks News Votes Sun, 15 Jul 2007 13:45:19 +0000 Rottenchester 4377 at
Racking Up the No Votes Randy Kuhl has voted against the major appropriations bills that have come before Congress in the last two weeks. This week's no votes on the Interior and Environment and Financial Services and General Government bills are interesting because each was accompanied by a press release (here and here) touting Kuhl-sponsored earmarks in those bills.

Kuhl has not explained his votes against these or any other appropriations bills. None of the appropriations bills have passed with veto-proof majorities. Most of the bills passed are under veto threat from the White House. Kuhl's vote with his party helps to give those veto threats some credibility, which in turn gives Senate Republicans leverage to remove or reduce appropriations that aren't in line with the Republican agenda.

If Kuhl votes for the final, compromise version of the bill, he can have it both ways: He can claim that he ultimately voted for the appropriation (and his earmarks), even though he initially opposed the bill.

]]> Analysis Earmarks Votes Fri, 29 Jun 2007 13:16:25 +0000 Rottenchester 4368 at
Earmark Watch In today's Hornell Evening Tribune, Randy Kuhl explains how Republicans forced the Democrats to compromise on earmarks. According to Kuhl, Democrats were trying to "sneak through" earmarks and the Republicans stopped them.

Since earmarks are now being disclosed, I've added a new page, Earmark Watch, where I'll attempt to track all of Kuhl's earmarks. I've also added a new category, Earmarks, which I'll use to tag stories about earmarks.

This all assumes that I'll be able to track down the damn things. As per usual, the committees are making this as hard as possible, releasing the earmarks as non-searchable image pdfs [warning: huge pdf]. This tactic, which was also used by the New York legislature, means that I have to paw through supplemental committee reports line-by-line to find Kuhl's earmarks. I assume that some public interest watchdog will create an earmark database. Until then, consider the earmark page a "best effort" rather than an authoritative source.

]]> Earmarks News Mon, 25 Jun 2007 18:07:20 +0000 Rottenchester 4362 at