Porky Politics

March 1st may be the first hint that spring is soon upon us, with barbecue and bikini season soon to follow, but for Congress 'tis the season to raise big money -- coincidentally right about the time earmark requests come due. Roll Call asks around about connections, real or implied, between late-night fundraisers and daytime spending decisions (sub. req. to read whole article).

Earmarks, the much-maligned "pork" of the political process, have taken quite a drubbing in the last year or so in part because of investigations into inappropriate appropriations (see Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), for example) and suspicion about big chunks of discretionary spending winding up in the pockets of campaign contributors:

 

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, ripped Murtha’s “earmark factory” and the ties between earmarks and campaign contributors.

“What the American people see all too often is campaign cash in one end and special interest earmarks coming out the other,” Hensarling said.


Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said the ties between campaign cash and earmarks go far beyond Murtha and far beyond any one party.


“Earmarking is very much a part of the fundraising culture for Democrats and Republicans, and that’s why it’s so hard to get rid of,” Flake said. Flake said Republican attacks on Murtha’s earmarking practices would stick better if the GOP didn’t have Members doing the same thing.

“It undercuts it horribly. We are just as guilty. ... We made an art form out of this fundraising-for-earmarks.”

 

Earmarks make a big, easy target (not to mention a convenient excuse to put on a pig costume or wave slabs of bacon around) but they're just one form of influence campaign contributors wield on Capitol Hill. The solutions to the earmark problem outlined in the article -- like banning earmark recipients from making campaign contributions -- are too piecemeal and don't go far enough in addressing the influence of private money on all aspects of the legislative process. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), is right to look more broadly:

 

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.), the one Democrat who has pledged not to request earmarks this year and urged a moratorium, said it’s the “sorry fact of the matter” that Members feel pressure to raise money, and people who have been helped by the Member or would like to be helped by the Member on any number of issues give contributions.

“That’s why I would like to see public funding of campaigns,” he said.

Public financing would address the earmark problem as well as other instances when questions arise over campaign contributions and lawmaker actions. With bills to enact full public financing of congressional campaigns introduced in both chambers of Congress, we're moving closer to a day when we can all put those pig costumes into mothballs.