James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Earmark That Backfired

Today's Downsizer-Dispatch . . .

In 2005 Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska championed a $10 million earmark for a highway interchange. The earmark appeared in an 835-page transportation bill called SAFETEA-LU. Rep. Young was the man behind Alaska's infamous $233 million "Bridge to Nowhere," so this sounds like nothing unusual for him, except that . . .

  • The project wasn't in Alaska, but as far away as possible, in the Florida district of Republican Rep. Connie Mack.
  • Mack and other local Republicans opposed the project. There were environmental concerns and higher priorities.
  • But they were told that they had to accept the project or risk losing future federal funds.

Why? Because a local developer who owned 4,000 acres near the proposed interchange had raised $40,000 for Rep. Young's re-election campaign. The interchange would multiply the value of his land. When asked about it by a reporter for the New York Times Rep. Young responded with an obscene gesture.

But there's more:

  • This earmark wasn't even in the 835-page bill passed by the House and Senate.
  • The original earmark (#462) was for widening I-75, not for an interchange.
  • After the bill passed, but before President Bush signed it, someone changed it to an interchange project.
  • This was done during the "enrollment"process when punctuation and other technical corrections are made.
  • But this was clearly a substantive change, not a "technical correction."


Incredibly, no one noticed the change for two years! Finally . . .

  • In August, 2007, a former Department of Labor official, Darla Latourneau, reported that the interchange didn't appear in the original bill passed by the House and Senate.
  • The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to return the money, asking that it be used for its original purpose.
  • That change was included this year in H.R. 1195, which passed both the House and Senate.
  • H.R. 1195 also includes a provision for the Justice Department to investigate the alteration of the earmark.

Little investigation is actually needed. Don Young's staff has admitted that they made the change, but no member of the House has filed an ethics complaint. Without a complaint, the House ethics committee can't investigate.

Have other House members done something similar? Is it common practice? Could this be why no one has complained to the ethics committee?

How did this happen? As Darla Latourneau says, "If this had come to light right after the bill had passed, there would have been a very quick technical amendment. This should not have happened." But how could it ever have come to light, given that Congress NEVER READS THE LAWS THEY PASS!

The Read the Bills Act (RTBA) would make frauds like this impossible.

  • If Rep. Mack had read SAFETEA-LU, as RTBA would require, he could have caught and corrected Young's change.
  • If SAFETEA-LU had been posted on the Internet seven days before passage, as RTBA requires, the Lee County government could have found which earmarks were for them, and asked for a correction immediately.

And if RTBA were the law its very unlikely we would have 835-page appropriations bills where things can get buried. Bills would be shorter, and probably fewer. Congress would have to prioritize. They would do less and spend less. There would be fewer earmarks. Perhaps only Florida taxpayers would determine which projects were best for them. And the Committee chairs in Congress would have less ability to buy and sell favors.

Demand that your Representative and your two Senators introduce the Read the Bills Act. Use your personal comments to mention the above example of why RTBA is needed. Also ask your Representative to file a complaint with the ethics committee, demanding an investigation of Rep. Young. You can send your message here.

You can also spread the word about the Read the Bills Act by joining the RTBA Coalition. Add an RTBA Coalition button, banner, or web-ad to your website or blog. In return, we'll announce your membership in a future Dispatch, reaching nearly 22,000 subscribers. You'll also be listed on our blog. Details are here.

This week we welcome three new members to the Coalition:

Beach Banter
Sovereign Justice
A Free Society

Finally, last week the House passed nine bills amounting to 299 pages, while the Senate passed one 4 -page bill. The list of bills is found below my signature in DownsizeDC.org's blog post of this Dispatch.

Sincerely,

James Wilson
Assstant to the President
DownsizeDC.org

No comments:

Post a Comment