Keeping the Spotlight on Earmarks
Jonathan Allen, writing in The Hill, exposes some earmarks sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot for institutions with connections to some of his closest political supporters (read: donors and fundraisers). Reading the story, I couldn’t help but think how much it was like our own Exposing Earmarks effort that focused on H.R. 5647, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill–find the earmarks, tie them to a member of Congress, and then look into who’s benefiting. First, what makes Allen’s story in The Hill so interesting is that it rather perfectly illustrates one of the main ways in which earmarks are abused:
Chabot has been criticized in the past for failing to bring projects back to Cincinnati. But Chabot’s 1st District would get $2.3 million in Labor-HHS earmarks in fiscal 2007, an amount in line with those of other politically vulnerable members, according to The Hill’s analysis of the bill’s 1,810 earmarks.
Democrats are targeting Chabot this year. Republicans are equally committed to keeping a loyal ally in office. One way to do that is to provide extra money for his district through the appropriations process. (emphasis added)
Got a tight race? Let’s use taxpayer money to put you over the top! And who gets that bacon you bring hom??
The list of Chabot donors who sit on the boards of prospective earmark recipients includes Geraldine “Ginger” Warner, a board member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra who held the Hastert-headlined event at her home in the ritzy Indian Hill neighborhood in Rep. Jean Schmidt’s (R) 2nd District.
The CSO would get $300,000 for its Sound Discoveries program under the Labor-HHS bill.
H.C. “Buck” Niehoff, Ronald D. Brown, Chip Gerhardt and Dee Gettler, all of whom were listed on the Chabot invitation, are members of the board of the Cincinnati Museum Center, which would get $500,000 to digitize its materials to make them accessible to other museums and the public. The foursome has kicked $7,550 into Chabot’s campaign coffers this cycle.
The issue, of course, isn’t that funding a symphony orchestra here or a museum Web site there will bankrupt the Republic. Rather, it’s the ability of lawmakers to direct federal money to their pet projects, which in turn fuels a very results-oriented influence industry of campaign contributors and lobbyists who help steer modest amounts of money (by Washington standards) to museums and much larger sums to defense contractors:
Lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti was a big winner when Congress failed this year to limit lawmakers’ ability to slip new federal projects into spending bills.
Companies represented by Magliocchetti’s lobbying firm, the PMA Group, won at least 64 special projects requested by members of Congress in the fiscal 2006 defense-spending legislation. That’s more than twice as many “earmarks” as clients of any other Washington lobbying firm got.
Magliocchetti’s group is among a handful of lobbying firms that emphasize defense earmarks. His firm has gained access to key lawmakers by using a staff of experts with military and congressional funding experience, and by maintaining a steady flow of campaign donations.
Four of the six Democrats and two of the nine Republicans on the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee count PMA Group among their leading campaign donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based non-profit group that tracks campaign-spending issues.
They include Representatives John Murtha of Pennsylvania and Peter Visclosky of Indiana, both Democrats, and Republicans David Hobson of Ohio and Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.
In that vein, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the House’s new earmark disclsosure rule doesn’t apply to defense earmarks, which are believed to have totaled $9.43 billion in 2006.