Earmark Reform

Things may have changed a little bit since the day last spring when Congressman Ralph Regula (D-Ohio) told Investigative Unit Producer Laura Strickler that choosing his favorite earmark is like having to choose, "which one of your children you love the most."

The new House of Pelosi voted on Friday to change the rules that govern the shadowy process of Congressional earmarking. Earmarks, of course, are funded pet projects that members add to bills for their districts and in the worst cases for themselves and their contributors (in the 2005 transportation bill that translated to more than 13,000 earmarks totaling some $24 billion of your taxpayer dollars.)

Here's a few cases of earmarking that Armen Keteyian reported on in September.

The vote on Friday in the house went 280 to 152. The House Dems voted as a block and were joined by 48 Republicans.

The new rules require lawmakers to now add their names to any earmark they want to slip into a spending or tax bill— no more anonymous entries. Additionally, they have to certify that they do not have personal or financial ties to the earmark. That should cover some of the issues we raised in our report, everything from quid pro quo with the defense industry a la Duke Cunningham to the funding of a new highway off ramp next to Cousin Earl's Piggly Wiggly or Contributor Bob's industrial complex.

"We think this is progress, it's better than what we had before," said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Alexander said the new rules redefined an earmark as a tax or spending provision that benefits ten or fewer companies or people. So if Congressman Smith puts in an earmark for road improvements, there better be more than ten houses or businesses on that street and they better not be owned by people named Smith.

Taxpayers for Common sense had wanted that number to be set at 100- but given that earlier versions of the rules change had that number at one, Alexander said the new definition is a step in the right direction.

The Senate is expected to vote on its own version of the earmarking rules changes in the next few days.