Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, has released a list of $66.4 million in earmark requests he will make in upcoming appropriations bills.
Critics call earmarks by “pork,” and say members have abuse the process in order to win votes back home and appease special interests groups and lobbyists.
But local government officials view the competition for federal dollars as part of the democratic process, largely because those federal dollars originate with local taxpayers who want to see some of their money returned home.
McNerney says he released his list because “I came to Washington committed to being open and accountable to Californians, and to change the way business is done here. For too long, the earmark process has been shrouded in secrecy, allowing lawmakers to fund expensive boondoggle projects that benefit the special interests as opposed to the public interest.”
The House of Representatives passed ethics reforms in January that require earmarks to carry the sponsoring member’s name within appropriations bills, but the rule does not mandate the individual release of the projects’ requesters.
Critics have called for individual disclosure, rightfully noting that it’s all but impossible for average citizens to wade through voluminous appropriations bills in search of names.
But some members fear such a list will raise local expectations when many earmarks fail to make it through the process. In other words, just because a member asks for money doesn’t mean he or she will get it.
Martinez Congressman George Miller’s office says they release earmarks after the projects have been approved by the sub-committee with jurisdiction. They also release at that time the list of projects that were not funded. (Miller’s press release of June 21 listed two projects that have been included by the relevant subcommittee: $650,000 for sewer and storm drain improvements on Mare Island and $100,000 for a interpretive “Rosie, the Riveter” center in Richmond.
The staff of Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, has a list of her funding requests along with an on-line earmark tutorial on her web site designed to help constituents understand the lengthy, uncertain and bureaucratic process.
It does appear as though the Democrats’ earmark reform, despite critics’ arguments that it doesn’t go far enough, has had an impact. The Interior Department appropriations bill, for example, contains about half the number of earmarks that last year’s under a Republican-led Congress.