Earmarks Don't Corrupt Congress, People Do

Published 3:30 pm Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guns, they say, don't kill people-people do.

Ditto, then, for earmarks and corruption in congress. Earmarks don't corrupt Congress-people do.

Not all people. Just some of them.

An earmark is no more inherently corrupt than anything else. In fact, used wisely they are quite effective at aiming federal funds at worthy projects, such as a Prince Edward-Farmville Water Authority.

Certainly, earmarks can be a most effective tool for rural areas that are overlooked in the mega budget process that has more hands on it than a Las Vegas slot machine. Rural representatives can use the earmark process to pinpoint funding for important projects that would otherwise go unfunded.

Still, leading into November's election, and in the wake of that election's results, a wave of anti-earmark fervor continued to rise, with politicians issuing press statements like this one: “Washington's reckless spending spree has only been fueled by the corrupt and wasteful earmark process, which is why I was proud to support and vote for the earmark ban in the (Republican) Conference meeting today.”

That was Fifth District Congressman Robert Hurt speaking via email in the wake of his election victory, and he is far from being alone in his opinion. Nor is an anti-earmark position confined to Republicans. Democrats are signing on now, too.

But why?

Seriously.

Stop earmarks from being used corruptly, yes, but don't get rid of earmarks entirely.

About one percent of the federal budget gets earmarked. And earmarking doesn't add money to the federal budget. It can be used to aim money within the federal budget, designating X amount from the pot of funds already in an agency's budget, a former congressional staffer explained to me.

Therefore, earmarking, used this way, is neither skyrocketing the federal budget nor our national deficit out of control.

“Ending earmarks doesn't actually do anything to reduce spending/deficit because it doesn't shrink the pot, it just changes how the pot is poured out,” the former staffer explained.

Earmarks, like anything else in congress, or the world, can be susceptible to corruption. But just because one minister runs off with church funds doesn't mean we should abolish the profession of ministry. Or-Oh, look, there's a polluted river, so let's get rid of all rivers. And let's get rid of all streets, roads and highways because they cause accidents. Of course not.

Nor should we abolish earmarks.

Wiser counsel would recommend greater oversight to ensure an earmark wasn't used to help fund something a big political donor was interested in, for example. Take better care of the earmark process. Don't get rid of it.

In fact, former Fifth District Rep. Tom Perriello did introduce legislation to prevent corruption by banning earmark requests on behalf of political donors. A sensible course of action.

Mr. Perriello used the earmark process to try and help the Fifth District. I would prefer that Rep. Hurt do the same thing, just as Mr. Hurt supported earmarks as a member of the Virginia General Assembly.

Again, it must be stressed that earmarks can be used to direct funds that are already in the federal budget. Used wisely, earmarks can better ensure that, particularly in rural areas, the budgeted funds are spent to best effect, in ways that help transform communities and create jobs, creating real value and reflecting the priorities in a particular congressional district, the congressional staffer told me.

There is nothing at all corrupt about doing that.

If earmarks do survive in some ways or means, Rep. Hurt should use the process as an effective tool for the Fifth District.

On behalf of a Farmville-Prince Edward Water Authority would be a brilliant place to start.

-JKW-