Monday, September 15, 2008

Earmarks: Senators vs. Governors

There is an article today in the Wall Street Journal about earmarks, and it seems to me the authors either (a) seek to use their article to influence public opinion negatively toward Governor Palin, or (b) they reveal their ignorance of the very matters they choose to report on. Here is how the article begins:
Last week, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain said his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, hadn't sought earmarks or special-interest spending from Congress, presenting her as a fiscal conservative. But state records show Gov. Palin has asked U.S. taxpayers to fund $453 million in specific Alaska projects over the past two years.

These projects include more than $130 million in federal funds that would benefit Alaska's fishing industry and an additional $9 million to help Alaska oil companies. She also has sought $4.5 million to upgrade an airport on a Bering Sea island that has a year-round population of less than 100.
The article begins by noting that the governor of Alaska asked the national government for funding for projects in Alaska. So, who is surprised by this? I suspect many people in Alaska, as well as people in each of the rest of the 50 states, expect this to be part of the normal job responsibilities of their governor. Perhaps the Alaska state legislature was involved in these projects as well.

The article moves on to bring up the controversy over earmarks, and seems to take it for granted that Governor Palin was asking for earmarks:
During an appearance Friday on ABC's "The View," Sen. McCain said Gov. Palin shared his views, and hasn't sought congressional earmarks. "Not as governor she hasn't," he said.

In fact, in the current fiscal year, she is seeking $197 million for 31 projects, the records show. In the prior year, her first year in office, she sought $256 million for dozens more projects ranging from research on rockfish and harbor-seal genetics to rural sanitation and obesity prevention. By comparison, her predecessor, Gov. Frank Murkowski, sought more than $350 million in his last year in office.
Now, I may be a fool, but it seems to me that phrases like "she is seeking" and "she sought" are inaccurate, and quite possibly intentionally chosen to distort. It seems to me that Governor Palin was not acting for herself, but instead, that she was carrying out her duties as governor of "the great state of Alaska." In other words, it was the state of Alaska that was seeking funds from the national government for "projects ranging from research on rockfish and harbor-seal genetics etc."

The article ends by noting the McCain campaign, including Governor Palin, has been critical of Senator Obama's record with respect to earmarks:
On the campaign trail, Gov. Palin has repeatedly attacked Sen. Obama on earmarks. "Our opponent has requested nearly one billion dollars in earmarks in three years. That's about a million for every working day," she said at a rally in Albuquerque, N.M.

Sen. Barack Obama requested a total of $860 million in earmarks in his Senate years, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. That doesn't include $78 million for projects that were national in scope and had been requested by many lawmakers. Sen. Obama halted all earmark requests in fiscal 2009.

It is difficult to compare Sen. Obama's earmark record with Gov. Palin's -- their states differ in size, for instance, and the two candidates play different roles in the process. . . .
Indeed, Senator Obama and Governor Palin do have different roles to play with respect to earmarks, while Senators Obama and McCain play quite the same roles with respect to earmarks.

The practice of earmarking is a Congressional practice. Both Senator Obama and Senator McCain are members of Congress, and therefore both Senator Obama and Senator McCain can participate in the corrupt practice of Congressional earmarking. In stark contrast, Governor Palin is not a member of Congress, and therefore Governor Palin cannot choose to engage in the corrupt practice of Congressional earmarking.

Why do I say Congressional earmarking is corruption? In case you haven't been paying close attention to the scandal that is Congressional earmarking consider the following explanation from an article at Harpers online:
Only later, after the approved bill had been shuffled off to the President for signature, could lawmakers and laymen alike peruse its contents in earnest. Scattered throughout the bill were hundreds of hastily inserted pages of “earmarks,” or allocations for local projects that are tucked into federal budgets. As approved at the November 17 appropriations meeting, the Foreign Operations bill had contained a mere nine earmarks. The omnibus measure, which was completed after two feverish days of work, allocated money for 11,772 separate earmarks. There was $100,000 for goat-meat research in Texas, $549,000 for “Future Foods” development in Illinois, $569,000 for “Cool Season Legume Research” in Idaho and Washington, $63,000 for a program to combat noxious weeds in the desert Southwest, $175,000 for obesity research in Texas. In the end, the bill’s earmarks were worth a combined total of nearly $16 billion—a figure almost as large as the annual budget of the Department of Agriculture and roughly twice that of the Environmental Protection Agency. It was the biggest single piece of pork-barrel legislation in American history.

Of who added these grants, no public record exists. Except in rare cases, members of Congress will refuse to discuss their involvement in establishing earmarks, and the appropriations committees have a blanket rule against commenting. Often it is difficult to discern even who is receiving the funds: earmarks are itemized in bills but generally without disclosure of the direct recipient—just a dollar amount, destination, and broad purpose. Indeed, in the matter of the $16 billion burglary, and the similar acts of mass theft plotted for this year, the only certainty seems to be this: that lawmakers and lobbyists collude to conceal, to the utmost extent possible, their actions from the American taxpayer, who serves as the ultimate benefactor to their chronic bouts of generosity.
What do members of Congress want to hide when it comes to the practice of earmarking? Their corruption of course. Please allow me to quote myself so that I might try to drive the point home:
It's kind of hard for me to imagine that our Constitution is consistent with the practice of earmarks. It is certainly true that the Constitution grants Congress the power to tax and spend on programs consistent with the enumerated powers of Congress. But this is a power of Congress and not a power granted to each individual member of Congress. Earmarks allow Congressman X or Senator Y to say that project Z back home, which is the brain child of Mr. K (a friend? neighbor? contributor?), will get money from taxpayers all across the country.
Individual members of Congress have been allowed the opportunity to individually use the government's power to tax in order to pay friends, family, favored political supporters, and maybe even themselves on at least some occasions. That's corruption, and if it wasn't corruption then as a member of Congress you would want your constituents to know the many ways in which you've been bringing back home the Congressional bacon.

As a matter of Senators versus Governors, Governors simply cannot choose to make a Congressional earmark, nor can they choose to hide their earmarks from public review. Actually I can imagine that the so-called "earmark" requests of Governor Palin arrived in Washington on official Governor of Alaska letterhead. In contrast, the part in the earmarking process played by individual members of Congress not only does not appear on their official letterhead, but the earmarks themselves do not appear in written form in legislation and often there is meant to be no official and public way to tie an earmark to the member of Congress who makes it.

So, how do Senators Obama and McCain stack up with respect to earmark corruption? Since I've been following this scandal I know that Senator McCain has fought in the Senate to end the practice. While I've not followed Senator Obama closely on this issue, my impression is that he did not fight against the practice in the past.

With respect to the authors of the Wall Street Journal article, they seem to me to have made little effort to help the reader understand the corruption of earmarks and the role in earmarks played by Senators versus Governors. Does this reflect ignorance or bias?

[Hat Tip: Instapundit]

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