Congressional earmarks -- those add-ons to spending bills directed by individual Members -- have been the object of scrutiny as of late, and no wonder: Congress made over $5 billion worth in 2005 alone. Do you believe Duke Cunningham was the only one who used earmarks for personal gain?
Cunningham is serving a prison sentence for accepting bribes in exchange for directing federal spending, and Rep. John Doolittle's name has come up a few times in relation to the same contractor, Brent Wilkes, who was bribing Doolittle. Obviously, this kind of activity needs to be weeded out -- but what about the more under-the-radar kind of things: a few thousand in campaign contributions which becomes a million dollar earmark down the road? Where does Congress' "power of the purse" come into conflict with campaign fundraising activity?
Certainly the steps taken to increase the transparency in the earmarking process are good ones (like having Members certify they have no financial interest in the earmark) but when we're talking billions of dollars heading out the door at the discretion of a small number of people, there's a great deal of room for quid pro quo to sneak through -- especially when it comes to campaign donations. Until we address the funnel between who needs campaign cash, and who wants cash from the government earmarking will have the wiff of conflict.