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December 17, 2010

End the Corruption

Joe Charlebois

The argument that eliminating earmarks won’t help reduce the deficit is either naïveté or simply misleading. Those who look only at the effect in actual dollars that the elimination of earmarks would have on the overall budget aren’t seeing the entire picture. Those who do understand are just looking to protect their pet projects, or, in the case of elected officials, their campaign coffers.


Earmarks constitute less than one percent of the United States annual budget. How can it be argued that this tiny percentage of the annual spending spree controls the entire budget?


Earmarks are simply the careful tug or release of the marionette strings that the incumbent – or puppeteer – operates to ensure re-election. Once re-elected the incumbent’s ability to operate more strings with greater efficiency and skill lead to an increase in his legislative power. As the power grows, and he becomes even more entrenched, he is even less likely to lose with each subsequent election opportunity.


In other words, earmarks are merely the redirection of tax dollars in the form of payments to constituencies and political brokers for the promise of political immortality.


For two decades the call for term limits and transparency have waxed and waned as political allies have come and gone. But, one thing is certain; the percentage of incumbents winning re-election remains extremely high.


In House of Representative races the percentage of incumbents being re-elected has remained consistently high. Exceptions – not withstanding our most recent election – do occur; but most often the biannual elections return well over 90% of those seeking another term.


The Senate – with one third of the body up for re-election each election cycle – consistently ushers a return to the Capitol for incumbent senators at a rate typically over 75%.


There are those who argue that earmark funds are simply a return of taxpayer dollars to worthy local projects. That may be factually correct; but why then are a disproportionate number of dollars flowing from one state to another?


If it is just a return of funding back to local sources, then why are West Virginians and Hawaiians being supported by fellow federal taxpayers from Wyoming, Minnesota and New York?


Support of local projects isn’t always bad or even unethical; it is the manner in which many of these projects are funded. Roads and military bases and other necessary functions of the federal government need funding and should be funded.


However, with the creation of omnibus spending bills like the one just proposed, it offers an opportunity to hide many of these “pork” projects within a spending bill that most times has absolutely nothing to do with the type of appropriation that is under consideration. These projects are not debated and are a blatant misuse of our tax dollars.


Earmarks as they exist now are unethical and corrupt. Bills need to be streamlined to contain appropriations that are germane to the bill itself.


All bills need to be able to be read before the House or Senate so that transparency is real and not just fluff.


So, don’t be fooled by those who would tell you it is too insignificant to address. It is of the upmost importance if we want to get back to legislation that is meaningful and debated and away from “pay to play.”


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