"What it does is it buys votes," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. "And if any senior member of our conference or this Congress wants to pass a bill, they use earmarks. They sprinkle them around like candy."
This year, they sprinkled in $2.5 million for potato pest management and research, $1.4 million to study mosquito trapping in Florida, and $800,000 for catfish genome mapping in Alabama. Taxpayers have been on the hook for this fishy earmark since 2001, for a total of $3.4 million.
For the third year in a row, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran ran away with the title of the biggest earmarker. The ranking Republican on the powerful appropriations committee snagged $490 million for 240 pet projects.
"He's what we call an unrepentant porker. He doesn't care what anyone thinks," said Tom Schatz, the president of Citizens Against Government Waste. "And he thinks that this is the way that he can get reelected."
But many lawmakers can't ignore the anti-spending sentiment sweeping the nation.
House Democrats recently swore off earmarks to for-profit companies while House Republicans agreed to shun all earmarks for a year. The result: pork-barrel spending is actually down, from $19.6 billion in 2009 to $16.5 billion in 2010 - and nearly half of that spending was requested anonymously.
"I urge them to come out of the shadows and stand up and defend the projects that they've put forward, because the nation demands it and their constituents demand it," said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.
Forty-seven members of Congress have vowed not to seek any earmarks ever. It's a start, but that's less than 10 percent of all lawmakers.