Earmarks: From “The Bridge To Nowhere” to unconvincing “Transparency” reforms

EarmarksEarmarks: From “The Bridge To Nowhere” to unconvincing “Transparency” reformsWe've done a lot of work on earmarks.

Budget & Tax,  | Quick Take
Jan 12, 2018  | 3 min read | Print Article

We’ve probably never written a faster press release than the one on earmarks. Because there’s not a lot to think about here. There’s a reason we found and shut down the infamous “bridge to nowhere,” a classic case of earmarks if ever there was one.

The issue does not look like it will go away. So, if you’re still digging into what bringing back earmarks would mean, here’s a short list items that we worked on in the recent (and not so recent) past and things we’ve said on the subject:

  • An oped our president, Ryan Alexander and vice president Steve Ellis co-wrote back in 2014 – it’s sadly evergreen. “The earmark heyday does not coincide with a high water mark of Congressional cooperation. Indeed, the last time Congress passed a budget and all appropriations bills individually on time was 1994 – before the earmark boom. Great legislative accomplishments of the last half century – from the Interstate highway system, the Civil Rights Act, Tax Reform Act of 1986, the Clean Air and Water Acts to name a few – all passed in times when earmarks were relatively insignificant.”
  • Our Earmarks Database – for fiscal years 2008-2010 when lawmakers had to claim their earmarks, we databased them all to actually analyze the data. (Transparent at the time was a paper chart at the end of the report accompanying the bill. To know the true beneficiary, we had to match a separate request letter to the earmark – except for Senate earmarks, which didn’t even have a public letter.)
  • The Bridge To Nowhere. Officially called the Gravina Access Project, we gave this wasteful project the Golden Fleece Award in 2003. Because $315 million on a project to serve 8000 residents (13000 if the entire county was included) seemed most worthy of the award.
  • You can find more opeds by Ms. Alexander here and here.
  • There’s a summary of some of the scandals that led to the “transparency” reforms.
  • There’s this Wall Street Journal article based on our work documenting then Rep. Charlie Taylor’s (R-NC) penchant for getting earmarks near where he owned property.
  • Finally, here’s the Taxapayers for Common Sense analysis of FY2008 and FY2010 earmarks and history and implications.
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Earmarks are the antithesis of draining the swamp, as Candidate Trump so famously said he would. As for the “friendliness” that they seemed to engender? Nope. More like pay-to-play, in which the the money always comes with a big smile in anticipation of a greenlight that picks winners and losers based on political muscle, not project merit.

We’ve spoken out repeatedly – through both Democratic and Republican administrations – against earmarks. We’ll continue calling them out for the bad idea they are.

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