Talking Points Memo’s Muckraker has a stunning post from Laura McGann and Paul Kiel about U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and his cross-country money fundraising tour. In 2005, a huge transportation bill was being assembled in Congress, and Young, as chair of the House Transportation Committee, used the opportunity to travel the country reaping in campaign cash. Developers and other business executives from Florida to Wisconsin turned the famous line from the film "Field of Dreams" on its head, "If he comes (and we give him loads of cash), they will build it."
A $40,000 fundraiser in Florida resulted in funding for an interchange. A series of contributions totaling $22,000 from a Wisconsin trucking company executive and his associates resulting in the chairman inserting favorable trucking legislation in the bill. Arkansans contributed $66,000 to Young and were rewarded with a $72 million extension of an interstate. Also in Arkansas, Wal-Mart’s PAC and execs gave Young $14,000 and suddenly a $35 million widening of the street leading to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville found its way into the bill. And the New Jersey Alliance for Action held a luncheon for Young, where he collected $29,500 in contributions. The Garden State was rewarded with 179 earmarks totaling $550 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. Now that’s a lot of action!
I don’t know what databases TPM used to explore these connections beyond those of earmarks at Taxpayers for Common Sense, but I’d wager they were looking at numerous ones at the Center for Responsive Politics too. There’s gold in those numbers.
Obviously, this type of legal bribery is not unique to Young. But it is shocking, nonetheless, when it’s exposed in all of its gore. The temptations are great to misuse the power that resides with committee chairs. This is why openness and transparency is key to keeping Congressional leaders honest. We hope the new earmark disclosure requirements help. Congress can and should take other important steps. Both parties, on taking control of Congress, pledged to end corruption. But history has shown the temptations too enticing to resist. Transparency is the means for Congress to protect itself from…Well, itself.