Give the 110th Congress and the White House a little credit: we're seeing more information on earmarks than we ever have before. Our friends at Taxpayers for Common Sense just added to their comprehensive compendium of earmarked appropriations a batch from the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies bill (their analysis of that bill is here). Even though the Senate has yet to formally pass its earmark reform measures (in part because Sen. Jim DeMint is holding out for quicker adoption of the rule), the Senate Appropriations Committee has been publishing information on earmarks, including the financial disclsoure letters Senators file when requesting them. The Office of Management and Budget, meanwhile, emails to alert us to new information available on their Earmarks Database:
1) FY08 Appropriations Earmarks: The database will now show earmarks as they move through the FY08 appropriations process. The number of earmarks and the dollar value of those earmarks can be viewed as a bill moves through the legislative process. 2) Earmarks for FY05 Selected Authorization Bills: The second change is that earmarks for selected authorization bills resulting in expenditures in 2005 have been posted to the database. This is an expansion beyond appropriations legislation, recognizing that while most earmarks appear in annual appropriations bill, some appear in authorization legislation. These new authorization bills include the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) and the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.
OMB has also started tracking all the changes they make to the database — definitely a handy thing to have. It's clear that transparency is more important than ever, as it appears that more and more members are relying more and more on earmarks. Mark Tapscott emailed a fascinating Examiner editorial (don't be fooled — there's far more fact than opinion in it) and accompanying stat sheet from Porkbusters that tells us:
Congress appears headed to approve a record number of earmarks in 2007, despite the fact that last November angry voters registered their disgust with the practice by electing Democrats who pledged a new era of transparency in government spending. A quick glance at The Examiner Newspapers/Porkbusters.org Earmark Reform Index for the U.S. Senate helps explain why. Two-thirds of the senators are adamantly opposed to reforming their appropriations perks, no matter what the public says…. The index is based on how senators voted on 12 key earmark reform opportunities in recent years. The selected votes include tallies on the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, the Railroad to Nowhere in Mississippi, the Iraq emergency supplemental bill and the baubles attached to the Pentagon spending bill. Seven of the votes are from 2007, two are from 2006 and three are from 2005.
Given that Congress is hooked on earmarks, it's important that constituents know how their elected lawmakers are spending their money as early as possible — so they can remind members of what local priorities really are. Ed Frank of Americans for Prosperity sent word of a questionable earmark requested by Rep. Nancy Boyda to commit $1.18 million to build a "Regional Prisons Museum" in Lansing, Kan.
According to media accounts, the Museum would be built on the grounds of the Lansing Correctional Facility and would feature a fake prison yard with imposing 12-to-14-foot-tall stone walls, two fake guard towers, prison cells and a gallows chamber. Construction costs are expected to exceed $3 million. Readers who posted comments on the Leavenworth Times’ recent online article about the project questioned its viability, calling it a “waste of MY money,” a “useless museum,” and writing that it will add “NOTHING in the way of real jobs or useful work.”
I happen to think that prisons are something worthy of more study and attention, but that said, it's hard for me to imagine that there aren't better uses for that $1.18 million. Thanks to better disclosure, Boyda's constituents can see how she spends their money–and decide whether they support her priorities.