Saturday Apr 12 2008
â€˜Accommodationsâ€™ come right out of your pocket
By: Ken Campbell
From the Right
If you want to be part of the club, you have to make accommodations. That was the response from former Sacramento Congressman Doug Ose, to Maj. Eric Egland, when Ose was asked about his position on Congressional earmarks. Unfortunately, Ose's attitude is all too common in Congress today ” which has led to the shameful spending sprees resulting in ballooning deficits and huge debt piled on our children and our children's children. Although the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to write federal checks, our Founding Fathers never envisioned the corrupt earmark system. The term earmark refers to funds provided by Congress for projects, programs, or grants that circumvent the legitimate spending process. Earmarks allow members of Congress to spend on their pet projects without oversight, discipline, transparency or accountability. The earmark system works great for everyone; everyone, that is, except the taxpayer. Earmarks are particularly great for members of Congress who have discovered how they can use them to ensure their re-election by buying votes, facilitating campaign contributions and rewarding special interests ” sort of an incumbent protection system. Most members of Congress turn a blind eye to other members' earmarks because they want the same courtesy applied to them. Remember, If you want to be part of the club, you have to make accommodations. But this is precisely the attitude that thwarts the kind of reforms we desperately need in Congress. Making accommodations means ignoring the root cause of our fiscal crisis because Congress does not want to disturb a highly lucrative practice that helps them personally and politically. For example, Copley News Service reported that Rep. Jerry Lewis steered hundreds of millions in federal funding to clients of lobbyist Bill Lowery. Lowery is a former Congressman and friend who served with Lewis until 1993. It was probably just coincidence that Lowery, the partners of his law firm, and their clients donated 37 percent of the $1.3 million that Lewis' political action committee received in the past six years. Another example: In November 2005, Rep. Randy Duke Cunningham resigned from Congress and pled guilty to conspiring to take $2.4 million in bribes from the defense contractors who received earmarks through Cunningham's legislative work. And amazingly enough, one of the defense companies was also a Bill Lowery client. A final example, as reported by the Washington Post: Despite the Pentagon wanting to abandon the project since 2001, Rep. Jim Moran used earmarks to keep Project M alive through fiscal year 2005. Created by Vibration and Sound Solutions Ltd. (VSSL), a small defense contractor in Moran's district, Project M's purpose has changed over the years but has failed to deliver anything useful to the Navy. VSSL's president and wife have coincidentally donated $17,000 to Moran's campaigns over the years. Earmarks add up to real money, and it's your money. The 2007 Water Resource Development Act illustrates how earmarks and grotesque overspending work. In 2007 President Bush asked Congress for $4.9 billion. The Senate added another $9 billion in pork and passed a $14 billion bill. Then the House passed their $15 billion version. By the time the bill made it out of the conference committee where both houses of Congress met to work out their differences, the President's $4.9 billion request came out as $23 billion pork package. When President Reagan vetoed the 1987 Transportation Bill, he said, I haven't seen this much lard since I handed out the blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair. The bill contained 121 pork projects. In comparison, Congress stuffed more than 6,300 earmarks in the 2005 Transportation Bill. And the abuse continues to increase ” the total cost for pork increased by 29 percent between fiscal years 2003 and 2006. For the most part, earmarks are spending that the federal government has no business funding ” like the 2005 Agriculture Appropriations Act, which included $100,000 for the Trees Forever Program in Iowa, a program to make sure people in Iowa are aware of the type of injuries trees can sustain from winter ice and snow. A laudable goal, to be sure, but why should taxpayers in Placer County fund this? The corruption of earmarks and the self-serving attitude of making accommodations can and should be changed. Voters need to replace any candidate for office that will not swear off the ethically dubious enterprise of earmark spending. Ken Campbell is the former chairman of the Placer County Republican Party.