Different Earmark Strokes for Different Folks


Freshman Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) brought financial oversight experience with her to Washington as a former prosecutor and Missouri state auditor. And she has said that fighting for greater transparency and openness in how the federal government operates would be the focus of her time as a senator, "as it relates to cost savings and being very stingy with the taxpayer dime," as quoted by the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, her hometown newspaper. Along with John McCain (R-Ariz.), she sponsored earmark disclosure language that would require committee and conference reports on the bill to list the name(s) of the sponsor and intended recipient(s) of any earmarks. Plus, her proposal would have required information on the earmark be made electronically and easily accessible to the public at least 48 hours prior to the vote on the bill or the final conference report, according to SourceWatch. McCaskill has also been working with Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) to set up an independent, bipartisan commission to oversee wartime contracts modeled after the commission then-Sen. Harry Truman chaired during World War II.

Missouri’s junior senator has taken a vow to not request any earmarks, a stance that "has amounted to little more than curiosity," according to a weekend article from The Kansas City (Mo.) Star. "But curiosity has begun to morph into outright frustration from fellow Democratic lawmakers back home," The Star reports. "They say her principled position is costing Missouri millions." The paper quotes Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) as saying he believes her stand has cost his Kansas City district "a lot" of cash. Cleaver also made the point that it’s not like the senator’s share goes to reduce the deficit and national debt. "Her portion of the earmark pie simply gets gobbled up by other gluttonous appropriators," the paper attributes the congressman saying. While admitting pressure from friends and colleagues, McCaskill is sticking to her guns. "That’s a little bit like saying we’re doing something that’s really bad and we all just have to keep doing it because it’s never going to get better," she said as quoted by The Star. Citing runaway debt and too much spending, McCaskill said, "It is immoral what we’re doing to our grandchildren."

Contrast McCaskill’s position on earmarks with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Today’s edition of The Washington Post reports that Rep. Hoyer has inserted $96 million worth of earmarks into the 2008 budget, an amount that so far places the majority leader in the top 10 earmarkers in the House for 2008. Two of the earmarks are set aside for two big contributors to his campaigns, $450,000 for a dubious music foundation and $2 million for a defense contractor. Associates of the music foundation happened to contribute $31,000 to Hoyer’s political action committee from 2004 to 2006. And the defense contractor’s executives and employees gave $12,100 to Hoyer’s 2005-06 congressional campaign. Hoyer is quoted as saying that no quid pro quo exists in regard to the campaign contributions and him submitting the earmarks. "If you support something . . . either through legislative language or verbal support or appropriated dollars, what happens is the proponents of those objectives wind up saying they want to support you," The Post quotes Hoyer. "Sometimes it’s a question of which is the chicken and which is the egg," Hoyer added.

As much as we at the Sunlight Foundation appreciate Sen. McCaskill’s position on openness, transparency and accountability, we also understand that not all earmarks are bad. We understand that earmarks can fund alot of worthy projects. As long as the process is open and transparent, we are fine with it. However, as McCaskill says, the process is broken and out of control. Maybe it will take someone going "cold turkey" to get the rest of the lushes to take notice.