Continuing with Throw Them All Out, Peter Schweizer’s book subtitled How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison. I did not make up that subtitle.
Last week, we talked about how the stimulus money of 2009 was doled out to political cronies. This week, it’s earmarks. Congressional earmarks are loosely defined as guarantees of federal expenditures to particular recipients in appropriations-related documents. Members of congress add their pet projects to bills that appropriate money for what most consider essential government services. Therefore, they are almost guaranteed to pass and the money will be spent.
Most earmarks are for projects that probably would not be funded unless they were attached to a bill that provides funding for something most would consider essential (appropriations). Politicians justify earmarks as their way of sending federal money back home to their districts. That money can mean the difference between winning and losing in the next election.
I’m sure that there have been worthwhile earmark expenditures, but if they are truly worthwhile, why not stand the test of an up-or-down vote. I am willing to sacrifice a few good earmarks to get rid of the wasteful ones. The folks we elect trade earmarks like we trade baseball cards.
Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) inserted a $207 million earmark into a highway bill that increased the value of real estate he owned. He made millions. This received a lot of national publicity, but most of the others in this book did not.
Carolyn Maloney (D) along with Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton (both dems) secured three earmarks of $640 million (eventual cost: at least $10 billion) for a rail line that just happens to run a few blocks from a building Maloney owns.
Bennie Thompson (D) inserted an earmark ($800K) for a regional airport in California to move a flight path south of the airport instead of north. Bennie is from Mississippi, not California. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) owns a vineyard, a home, and an exclusive resort north of the airport. No more pesky flights over her properties. Bennie, of course, was just paying back a favor. He had his own earmarks in MS where he enhanced his personal wealth.
Another earmark paid for a new exit ramp off highway 101 in California. The ramp provides better access to a shopping mall Pelosi owns there.
Judd Gregg (R) obtained an earmark for $266 million for a new tech center at the Univ. of NH. The name of the new tech center? Gregg Hall.
Ken Calvert (R) earmarked $1.5 million of our money to make himself about half a million in real estate profits. David Hobson (R), Heath Shuler (D), Jerry Lewis (R), all enriched themselves with earmarks. Maurice Hinchey (D) increased his net worth by 800% in just four years through earmarks.
Harry Reid (D) secured $18 million for a bridge across the Colorado River (there was already a bridge in place). He just happened to own 160 acres nearby. He also made $1.1 million after exerting influence in a rezoning case. The influence was powerful because of past earmarks and the likelihood of future ones. Again, earmarks are like currency.
The author did a good job of pointing out particularly egregious examples, but I know there are many, many more on both sides of the aisle.
From the book: A young state Senator Obama (D) describes in his book, The Audacity of Hope about receiving a $112K “retainer” from a man named Blackwell at a time when he needed funds badly. As payback, Obama secured $320K in Illinois tourism grants for Blackwell’s company (for a ping-pong tournament). He seems proud that he was able to fund ping-pong.
Most of our political leaders have been in office for so long that their war chests are full as a result of handing out our money and receiving political contributions in return.
We should stop all earmarks. Those who say that earmarks are a tiny part of the budget simply don’t understand how earmarks work. Stopping earmarks will save hundreds of billions more than their direct costs because without earmarks, a lot of wasteful pork just won’t pass.
And then there is the excuse most often used. It’s only _____% of the budget. That excuse is what got our government into so much debt and what gets a lot of families into trouble. Everything counts. As Everett Dirksen is supposed to have said, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon we’re talking real money.” That same principle applies if you substitute million or even thousand for billion. Next, insider trading.
Go Down Looking is a great novel. I read the other books of his series after reading this one. Jim has a great writing style, and his use of the metaphor and simile is exceptional. His characters are truly realistic--no super heroes--just folks living their lives the best they can with all the ups and downs of humanity. Real events and incidents are scattered throughout the stories. Anyone who is from a rural area or small town will immediately identify with his characters and with the settings he creates. Everyone else will be treated with an accurate and very realistic account of the joy & troubles, the dignity & shamefulness of rural folks of the past few decades all wrapped in a remarkable story. Without hesitation, I recommend Jim Ainsworth's River Series books, especially Go Down Looking. Listen for the music; search for the flow.
Ken Ryan, Lufkin, Texas
Ken Ryan, Lufkin, Texas