The official Web site of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., offers an "earmark toolkit" for visitors. The most useful element is the summary of the appropriations process and the means by which members secure funding for their pet projects. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more information on individual earmarks or, alternatively, lists of them all, although given the fine work that many others have done identifying them in appropriations bills (most notably, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Porkbusters), there’s little reason for a Senate office to duplicate their efforts.
The Associated Press is reporting that the House Republicans have not been able to come to an agreement on the earmark reform provisions in the lobbying and ethics "reform" bill (if you want to know why I use quotations marks go here). In one corner is Appropriations Chair Jerry Lewis (R-CA) who is peeved that the earmark reform only targets earmarks originating out of his committee. Lewis declared that a reform that "does not touch on the 'Bridge to Nowhere' is not really reform." In the other corner is Mike Pence (R-IN), the spokesman for the most conservative Republicans. He said to CongressDailyPM that Lewis' argument against limiting earmark reform to the Appropriations Committee alone "feels to many of us like an effort to defeat earmark reform." Caught in the middle is Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) who is "confident" the bill will be "on the floor tomorrow" despite Republicans having "some work to do on earmark reform".
In the Senate Tom Coburn (R-OK) is planning to offer amendments to the emergency spending bill directly targeting spending that he wants to cut, including the Gulf Coast railroad sought by Trent Lott, Thad Cochran, and Haley Barbour. (CongressDailyPM)
Back in 1993, Lott and Cochran helped defeat President Bill Clinton's ill-advised "stimulus" package, a $16.3 billion pork-barrel measure (ironically, almost the same amount that's been wastefully added to the current spending bill). "And where are we going to get the money?" Cochran asked Congress then. "We are going to increase the deficit, which requires the government to borrow more money and to pay more interest. That is not economically healthy, that is economically dangerous."
Everywhere you look there seems to be another congressman writing earmarks for campaign contributors. This time we have Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL):
Firefly Energy, a three-year-old Peoria firm, received a significant boost when U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood earmarked $2.5 million in federal defense funds for it last fall. A member of the House Appropriations Committee, LaHood also helped direct $26 million in defense funds to Caterpillar Inc., the largest employer in his district. In addition, he steered $200,000 to Peoria's Proctor Hospital. What LaHood, R-Peoria, did not mention when touting the federal funds he brought home to his district was that lobbyists for all three businesses were at the same time raising money for his campaign.
Earlier in the year LaHood had told the 23 lobbyists that organize fundraisers for him to stop holding them so that he could avoid the "perception of a special relationship." After crunching the numbers LaHood found out that 8 of the 23 lobbyists had raised $99,655 for his campaign, or a third of all his campaign contributions. And as it turns out one of those lobbyists, Bill Lane, lobbies for Caterpillar, Inc.
Sylvia A. Smith, the Washington editor of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, emails to say that Rep. Mark Souder voluntarily discloses to the paper a list of his earmarks, and sends this fine story along to prove it. I found these paragraphs especially interesting:
Souder wants $159.5 million for projects small ($25,000 apiece for two county programs to include residents’ irises in a national identification data bank) and large ($31.5 million for equipment to train Indiana Air National Guard pilots).
- The New York Times picks up the story of Alan Mollohan's (D-WV) farm on Cheat River. Mollohan "acknowledged yesterday that he had on several occasions steered earmarks to federal agencies to finance contracts with his friend's company, FMW Composite Systems. ... But Mr. Mollohan said that he was not FMW's only 'Congressional sponsor' and that he saw no conflict of interest between his personal real estate purchase and the company's federal contracts." Congressmen, act now, and sponsor a campaign donor today.
- Tom DeLay's (R-TX) former chief of staff and now powerful Republican lobbyist Susan Hirshmann is profiled in the Legal Times.
- We have another editorial bashing the House's attempt at lobbying and ethics "reform", this time from the New York Times.
"The proposal is a cadaverous pretense that Congress has learned the corrupting lessons of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced superlobbyist; Representative Tom DeLay, the fallen majority leader; and Duke Cunningham, the imprisoned former congressman. It makes a laughingstock of the pious promises of last January to ban privately financed junketeering by lawmakers. Instead, these adventures in quid pro quo lawmaking would be suspended only temporarily, safe to blossom again after the next election."
- And if you thought those gas prices were going to go down I hope you have a few million dollars to lobby Congress. The Hill reports that the oil and gas industry are preparing to throw $30 million into a "grassroots" campaign to lobby Congress and improve their image among the American people.
The Great Falls Tribune reports that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) has lawyered up in the face of allegations that he aided Jack Abramoff's clients in exchange for favors and campaign contributions. His lawyer, Ralph Caccia, works on white collar crimes cases and represented a friend of Monica Lewinsky before Ken Starr's grand jury.
The Legal Times provides a graphic that illustrates the cast of characters in the Jack Abramoff scandal and who they have hired to represent them.
Welcome to In Broad Daylight, a Sunlight blog aimed at tracking news and blogs that cover the many creatures in today's Washington including members of Congress, lobbyists, campaign contributions, private junkets, earmarks, deals, and, yes, sometimes crooks. If you want to discover what your members of Congress are up to, and who's talking about it, this is the place to come. If you want to contribute to an open discussion about what's going on in Washington this is the place to be as I will need your help to shine light on the dark corners of Washington. If you want to know more about the Sunlight Foundation you can read Jeff Birnbaum’s article in today’s Washington Post or just go ahead and explore the site. I’ve been posting here at In Broad Daylight for quite a while and you should go ahead and check out my previous posts to get a taste of what we’re going to be talking about here. I hope that you join the conversation.
- Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker looks into Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) stonewall on his wife's fundraising arrangement. Doolittle has claimed that the House Ethics Committee okayed his wife's questionable practice (that has been denounced by the Association of Fundraising Professionals) but refuses to show evidence. Kiel writes, "if Doolittle asked for the committee's opinion, he would have received it in written form. Unfortunately, the committee keeps such opinions confidential. So it's not coming out unless Doolittle publishes it. And for some bizarre reason he's clinging to that exculpatory piece of evidence. It makes you wonder." Let me just cradle my chin with my thumb and index finger and say, "Yes, it does make me wonder."
- Chris Cillizza takes a look at Democratic Leadership PACs at the Washington Post's The Fix.
- Mark Tapscott continues the outrage fest at the very, very unkosher emergency spending bill. He links to a Heritage Foundation study that shows how out of control pork-barrel spending is getting.
- And finally, Matt Stoller posts at Daily Kos to vent his frustration at Bobby Rush (D-IL) - and to get the many Kossacks to call up Rush's office - for cosponsoring the Internet give-away bill while receiving funding for his community center from the very phone companies supporting the bill. Stoller says, "Not cool."
Today both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ran stories about the pork-filled emergency supplemental bill that contains Sen. Trent Lott's (R-MS) now infamous "Magic Railroad". Some congressmen and Senators are not happy with the $15 billion worth of extra picnic shoulders thrown into a bill that is intended to provide funds for rebuilding New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and Iraq. Tim Chapman at the Capitol Report writes that both Mike Pence (R-IN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have called on the President to veto the bill if the extra money is not removed. Pence called the bill a "fruit basket" of unrelated spending. John Spratt (D-SC), the ranking Dem on the House Budget Committee, said, "A lot of these things are desirable, and some are even necessary, but they don't belong in an emergency spending bill."
I haven't been by the Capitol lately but I've heard they're hanging this new sign out front: