Coalition Releases Principles for Reforming Earmarks Process


A coalition of lobbyists and good government advocates today released 5 principles for reforming how Congress grants earmark requests. The principles call upon Congress to:

  1. Impose a limit on earmarks directed to campaign contributors
  2. ban congressional staff from participating in fundraising
  3. Build an earmarks database (structured along the lines of the database called for in the Earmark Transparency Act)
  4. Require GAO to conduct random earmark audits
  5. Require Members of Congress to certify that earmark recipients are qualified to handle earmarks

The coalition is composed of Melanie Sloan from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Rich Gold of Holland and Knight, Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste, Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, Craig Holman of Public Citizen, and former Representatives James Walsh.

The Sunlight Foundation has long called for improving transparency in the earmark process. As my colleague Lisa Rosenberg wrote after a Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on the Earmark Transparency Act, “a single database of earmark requests is an idea whose time has come.”

Categorized in:
Share This:
  • Daniel Schuman


    By definition, a proposal on earmark reform written jointly by lobbyists and good government advocates is a “lobbyist-written bandaid,” but to dismiss the ideas contained therein simply on that basis is foolhardy.

    A ban on earmarks is in actuality very hard to make effective. Even if you change the House and Senate rules to prevent the insertion of language into legislation and committee reports calling for directing funds to specific projects, you cannot stop legislators that oversee agencies from calling those agencies to “suggest” how they should spend funds. Technically, that’s not an earmark, but as a practical matter, how could it be described as anything else? As a constitutional matter, you’d have a very hard time of trying to stop legislators from communicating on behalf of their constituents to the agencies they oversee.

    Earmark transparency, by contrast, would surface many of the current obscure appropriation practices so that everyone has the opportunity to evaluate legislation on an equal footing, but without the perverse effects that a ban would create.

    If you really want to get into bizarre appropriations practices, try to figure out how “tax expenditures” act essentially as earmarks and almost always fly under the radar. Those are instances where the government reduces taxes on an entity or set of entities, as opposed to giving them money. The net effect is the same.

  • Doug Osborne

    How about considering a simple ban on earmarks? No need for transparency – the problem ceases to exist.

    This won’t happen until we remove corporate funding of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of our government. Every earmark, every candidate and office-holder, every law, is bought-and-paid-for by corporate money, including public companies, wealthy individuals, PACS, and unions.

    Earmark reform such as this is simply a lobbyist-written bandaid.