Thursday, December 30, 2010

Watchdogs Cooking Up a New 'Problem'

In a “shocking” discovery Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) reveals that members of Congress have found “alternatives” to finding funding for their “pet projects” and The New York Times dutifully reported on it.

Using a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request CAGW discovered a letter from anti-earmark Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) who lobbied the Department of Education to release money earmarked by the bureaucracy for a school district in his then-House District.

This is reminiscent of a study a few months ago by the Center for Public Integrity that we commented on here and here.

Then, as now, we pointed out that, especially given their new level of transparency, earmarks were a superior option for funding local projects, from a democratic point of view.
• Transparency increases the likelihood that the project request is available for public scrutiny; interest groups and individuals do not need to wade into the dark recesses of the bureaucracy, FOIA requests in hand, to identify member requests.
• Earmark requests promoted by members of Congress allow for a level democratic accountability that is absent in the bureaucracy. We the people can punish members for “stupid” earmarks or reward them for being responsive to local needs.
As long as earmarks (in their current form) are banned we can expect more reports like this, despite the fact that members of Congress have been hounding the bureaucracy about funding issues on behalf of their constituents since the bureaucracy began spending money.

Furthermore interest groups that previously relied on ginning up animosity toward earmarks to raise money from an outraged public needs to promote these stories to maintain their fundraising efforts. It takes a lot of money to clean up government. How can you raise money when you’ve “solved” the problem (earmarks) that previously buttered your bread?[1]

And the news media will continue to report on these “shocking” revelations—and helping interest groups raise big money—because the stories are consistent with a narrative understanding of members of Congress as inherently hypocritical and obsessed with reelection.

All this and the only casualty is a part of our American democracy.


[1] The degree to which CAGW can go to raise money is well documented. For instance see Bill Adair “For price, watchdog will be an advocate” Accessed December 30, 2010.

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