One Bad Egg Rots the Whole Pork Barrel

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The push to eliminate earmark spending for a one year period failed spectacularly in the Senate yesterday, despite support from unlikely corners. Indeed stories of bribed legislators and Bridges to Nowhere weren't enough to dissuade Senators from the pork barrel spending that's the bread and butter of reelection. While the impetus behind the proposed moratorium was a good one, it's going at the problem the wrong way.

Much ink has been spilled on the practice of legislators taking campaign contributions and bribes in exchange for earmarking discretionary funds for pet projects. "Earmark" has become a dirty word in the narrative of cleaning up Congress. However, as this article notes earmark spending for local initiatives is an important arrow in the incumbent's quiver come election time, no matter how much speculation swirls around former Reps. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) or Bob Ney (R-OH), or current Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Don Young (R-AK).

To address the bribery (both illegal and legal -- i.e. campaign contributions) that influences the earmarking process and government spending and to further aid the capacity of lawmakers to respond to constituent needs, Congress needs to seriously consider public financing of their campaigns. Much of the doubt about the integrity of the earmarking process could be assuaged if we were confident that a member of Congress wasn't "bought" for his or her appropriation power and that the only people who owned the legislator were his or her voters.