$2 Million For Paint?

Sherwin Williams was one of the lucky winners in a recent round of Congressional funding. It got an earmark for two million in tax dollars to develop a super-paint that can kill dangerous bacteria. But it's a project some critics say isn't even feasible. But all the company had to do to get the money was ask its hometown congresswoman, Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

Congressman John Campbell challenged the earmark on the House floor.

"What investigations, what research, has been done to determine that this technology could be effective and is worth $2 million in taxpayer funds?" Rep John Campbell asked.

An earmark is a grant of money without normal public review, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports. Members of congress often deliver them to hometown companies or projects knowing little about the details or the value for the tax dollar.

What they do know is that bringing home bacon gets them votes - and job security.

Ryan Alexander is a taxpayer advocate and said, "those earmarks to local companies can be the worst kind of government spending."

"By singling out one company without looking at what the marketplace has available, we don't know that we're getting the best product. We don't know that we're getting the best value for our money," said Alexander, who works for the group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Myron Zebrak, a competitor to Sherwin Williams, says he was incensed when he heard the multi-billion dollar paintmaker got millions in an earmark.

"I think the money isn't well spent and it all ends up in the congressman's district. It's not fair," Zebrak, who is a coating manufacturer, said.

But when asked about their hometown earmarks, members of Congress can get touchy.

Congresswoman Tubbs Jones refused our interview requests so we found her at her Capitol Hill office.

"Don't you ever walk up to me like this," she told Attkisson when approached on Capitol Hill by a CBS News crew. "Young lady, turn the camera off."

"You can't order us to turn our cameras off," Attkisson replied.

"Okay, then you can't … I can't be forced to talk. Thank you very much," Tubbs Jones said.

"I've been asking for an interview," Attkisson explained.

"Don't play me like that," Tubbs Jones said.

And when Tubbs Jones grabbed Attkisson's wrist, Attkisson said, "Please take your hands off me."

"I'm not gonna take, I didn't mean any offense," Tubbs Jones said. "Wanna have a conversation?"

Attkisson replied: "I just want to ask you a couple of questions about the Sherwin Williams earmark."

"Give me a few moments and I'll talk to you," Tubbs Jones said.

A few minutes later, Tubbs Jones agreed to talk, and said she gave Sherwin Williams the earmark because the company told her it's the most qualified.

Does she have a problem with taking Sherwin Williams' word for it?

"All I can tell you is that Sherwin Williams has a reputation for honesty, doing great work in my community and they came with a proposal that looked good to me," Tubbs Jones said. "They showed me testing, they showed me a video and I said 'let's go for it!'"

Whether or not a new super-paint is ever invented, there's one broad brush of truth - Tubbs Jones bought $2 million of goodwill in her home district.

Just ask Sherwin Williams.

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.