Earmark Redux: Taxpayers Fund a Merry Christmas for Congress' Pet Projects


It was just a month ago (after the elections) that Democrats and Republicans were scorning those nasty earmarks: giveaways of your tax dollars to pet projects without the normal public review. Too often, say critics, earmarks seem to coincidentally be awarded to those who contribute to the member of Congress' re-election campaign.

President Obama agreed a ban would be good. "I'm somebody who's big on eliminating earmarks in Congress," he told reporters on November 11.

Joining the chorus were formerly earmark-happy Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. "On the issue of congressional earmarks," McConnell said on November 15, "as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example."

So you can pardon those who are confused to hear that thousands of earmarks worth billions of dollars are stuffed into the current massive spending bill making its way through Congress. That includes earmarks by those who've sworn them off.

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By the count of Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS), there are at least 6,600 earmarks worth $8 billion dollars that we know of. That doesn't include "undisclosed" earmarks, which will take some more hunting; or Presidential earmarks, which haven't yet been revealed.

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Ryan Alexander of TCS says earmarks are a bad idea, even when the projects sound good. "A lot of the projects already get money from the regular federal budget," she says. The earmarks are extra sweeteners that often end up in the hands of those who donate generously to certain members of Congress. They're often awarded without competitive bidding to a hand-picked project, company or entity. Critics say it's not the most worthy or needy projects that get money: but the ones who are most-connected to Washington politicians through lobbyists, donations or contacts.

The newest crop of earmarks was promised before the November elections. But Alexander says there's no reason Congress couldn't remove them. "Absolutely, they could have taken them out. There's nothing procedurally difficult for them to take out these earmarks. The only thing stopping them from taking out the earmarks is that the lawmakers want them."

Click here to see the giant spending bill and links to the earmarks in each section of the bill.

Some earmarks in the bill include:

  • $247,000 - Virus free grapes in Washington State
  • $413,000 - Peanut research in Alabama
  • $125,000 - Fishery equipment for the Guam Fisherman's Cooperative Association
  • $349,000 - Swine waste management in North Carolina
  • $277,000 - Potato pest management in Wisconsin
  • $246,000 - Bovine tuberculosis treatment in Michigan and Minnesota
  • $522,000 - Cranberry and blueberry disease and breeding in New Jersey
  • $500,000 - Oyster safety in Florida
  • $400,000 - Solar parking canopies and plug-in electric stations in Kansas
  • $165,000 - Maple syrup research in Vermont

Here are a few of the earmarks TCS found.

Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News Investigative Correspondent based in Washington. You can read more of her posts in Hotsheet here.