The Spectacle Blog

Earmarking in Secret

By on 6.12.07 | 8:21PM

The Republican Study Committee slams the Democrats over secret earmarks that Democrats plan on inserting into bills during conference committee.

Ramesh Ponnuru argues in the current print edition of National Review that porkbusting is overrated. His most provocative claim is that transparency could actually be counterproductive:

The porkbusters want the public to be able to find out which legislator put which spending item in a bill. But most earmarks are not secret. Politicians brag about them. Citizens Against Government Waste, one of the oldest anti-pork organizations, complains on its website that pork "conditions voters to re-elect incumbents based on their ability to 'bring home the bacon.'" Exactly. If reformers really wanted to cut down on earmarks, they would outlaw disclosure: If politicians could not take credit for bringing federal money to their districts, they would bring a lot less.

More disclosure, on the other hand, could increase the number of earmarks. Congressmen send "request letters" to the appropriations committees seeking funding for their pet projects. From time to time, it has been suggested that these letters be made public. If they were, the congressmen would end up going to bat for every constituent who asked them for help.

If this is the case, then why is there any secret earmarking at all? The answer, I think, is that congressmen don't actually worry too much that they won't get credit for pork from their constituents -- after all, the voters back home in their respective districts are the ones who see the bacon doled out up closes. What they do worry about is financial support for their electoral oppenents from outside their respective districts. Transparency serves to correct the balance of information between pro- and anti-pork interests.

This means, incidentally, that there is an inherrent tension between campaign finance "reforms" and curbing pork. Someone tell John McCain.

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