Senate Puts the Anonymity Back in Earmarks


Wondering where the Senate Defense earmarks are in Though our collaborators and friends at Taxpayers for Common Sense have compiled a list here, one thing you’ll notice is that, unlike the House Defense earmarks contained in Earmark Watch, the Senate disclosures don’t list the actual recipient of the earmark, but rather generic project names. So while we know that Sen. Maria Cantwell and Sen. Patty Murray earmarked $2 million for “U.S. Army Extended Cold Weather Clothing System [ECWCS] Hand Protection System” (gloves, presumably), we don’t know who will be making those gloves, whether the glovemaker hired lobbyists or had its executives contribute to Cantwell and Murray’s campaigns, or were otherwise hand-in-glove with their earmark bestowers.

That’s because of a slight change in wording that was made in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, one that the Senate, apparently, prefers–and which all but does away with meaningul earmark disclosure. Read on for more details…

…Taxpayers for Common Sense found a surprise in the text of the new law that will keep some of the most sought-after Senate earmark information out of public view until just before bills hit the floor.

The law excuses Senate committees from publishing online at an early stage of the process earmark lists that include the names of sponsors, the recipients and the purposes of projects.

Instead, at the committee approval stage, the only data required to go online are certifications that members have no financial interests in their own earmarks.

It was a minor change in wording that made a big difference between the version that became law and the version the Senate passed in January. The earlier version would have required committees to publish all earmark information online immediately.

As it stands, complete earmark information will not have to be put online until 48 hours before bills reach the floor.

That’s quite a difference, and what it means in practice is that Senators’ earmarks will not receive meaningful public scrutiny–by the time the public learns of the earmarks, the bills will already have become law. For this Senate, this short-circuiting of public disclosure is a feature, not a bug:

Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman, insisted that the change was minor.

“In the course of finalizing the ethics law, we refined various provisions to make them rational, workable and cohesive,” Manley said. “The final version provides ample public disclosure of earmarks in a workable fashion.”

Workable for whom? Taxpayers and constituents? Or our elected servants in Washington who don’t want us to be able to check up on our employees?