Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seattle Times Squeals on the Squealers

The Seattle Times on Sunday rolled out a pretty damning expose of Congress's continuing appetite for pork, suggesting that the earmarking epidemic goes on, despite vows of reform and transparency. Here’s a link to the stories, which the paper packaged together as a feature called "The Favor Factory 2008."

This is all just an appetizer, keep in mind. These earmarks come from just one bill, which funds the Pentagon in Fiscal 2009. That was the only place the paper could go, though, since Congress -- derelict in its duties as usual -- failed to pass most other spending bills this year. The Times also provides readers with a database, itemizing the defense earmarks and campaign contributions for each member. That leaves us to judge whether these earmarks seem legitimate (though the project descriptions can be maddeningly vague), and to draw our own conclusions about whether there appear to be quid pro quos between earmarks and donations.

It's a nifty piece of investigative journalism, that provides a wealth of possible story angles, and research opportunities, for local reporters and curious constituents alike, if they take the time to connect the dots. Kudos to The Seattle Times for putting it all together.

Here are links to earmark/campaign donor lists of particular interest to local readers.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn: earmark list.

Sen. Wayne Allard: earmark list.

Sen. Ken Salazar: earmark list.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar: earmark list.

U.S. Rep. Mark Udall: earmark list.

It's always tempting, when looking at home state pork, to let narrow self-interest cloud our judgment about the propriety of such expenditures. Since state or local institutions may benefit, we have a tendency to be more forgiving of "our" earmarks than we are of those that go elsewhere. This cognitive dissonance is perfectly captured in this editorial from the Port Huron Times Herald, which decries earmarking as "reprehensible" -- except when it benefits Michigan. And this is one reason why members of Congress rarely pay a political price for their plundering.

One way to get a more objective perspective is to ask yourself whether you would consider this a good and legitimate use of federal money -- of your money -- if it were going to some other state or congressional district. If you wouldn't be happy paying for such a project in Peoria, you shouldn't ask people in Peoria to pay for one here.

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