Backsliding on Earmark Reform?


Robert Novak suggests in a column today one subject in divided Washington that gets bipartisan support:

[Sen. Harry] Reid is also working behind the scenes with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to undermine earmark transparency and prevent open debate on spending proposals…

…Reid is plotting to strip anti-earmark transparency from the final version of ethics legislation passed by the Senate and House, with tacit support from Republican senators and the GOP leadership.

I’m shocked. Also not surprised. Interestingly, Novak reports that the issue that’s rankling lawmakers is a provision that would “bar earmarks benefiting a senator’s family members.”

An effort by Sen. Tom Coburn to sink just such an earmark that Sen. Ben Nelson requested offers a fairly good reason of why need the rule:

Nelson’s current $7.5 million earmark for software helps 21st Century Systems Inc. (21CSI), which employs the senator’s son, Patrick Nelson, as its marketing director. The company gets 80 percent of its funds from federal grants, mostly through earmarks. With nine offices scattered among states represented by appropriators in Congress, the company has in recent years spent $1.1 million to lobby Congress and $160,000 in congressional campaign contributions. “As of April,” the Omaha World-Herald reported, “only one piece of [the company’s] software has been used — to help guard a single Marine camp in Iraq — and it was no longer in use.”

In requesting the 21CSI earmark, Nelson did not disclose his son’s employment. “There’s no requirement that he disclose that,” a Nelson spokesman told this column. “But frankly, in this case, we didn’t disclose it because it’s so public.” An April 24 letter from Levin giving senators instructions on how to request an earmark made no mention of the “Reid amendment” that had been passed by the Senate three months earlier but that required only certification that no senator’s spouse would benefit from an earmark. Inclusion of Nelson’s son, however, would be required if the ethics bill provision passes.

We noted Coburn’s effort to investigate whether 21CSI used federal funds to lobby here.