Continue the pork, but with better restrictions
Sen. Daniel Inouye ranks fourth in the Senate in earmarking federal projects for his home state.
Sen. Daniel Inouye takes a hit every year for his prowess in earmarking federal expenditures for projects in Hawaii. Critics call it pork-barrel spending, but the money coming to the islands goes mostly to military activities, various research and special purposes unique to the state. Reforms adopted by the House and Senate significantly improved disclosure rules, but further changes are needed.
Inouye's so-called "pork" includes engineering for Honolulu's planned mass transit system, efforts to keep the brown tree snake that devastated Guam from infesting Hawaii and rebuilding the USS Arizona Memorial, being considered by President Bush to become a national monument.
Earmarks have been criticized in the past as sneaky tools to fund silly programs aimed at satisfying lobbyists and paying back campaign donors. Legislators in positions of power have been accused of using earmarks in one area as leverage to gain pork in others.
From his position as chairman of the Commerce Committee and the defense appropriations committee, Inouye ranked fourth in the Senate in earmarked expenditures, totaling $229.7 million, for the 2008 fiscal year. At the top, with a $387.4 price tag, was Inouye's friend and ranking Republican on the Commerce Committee, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. Rep. Neil Abercrombie ranked 14th in the House, earmarking $14.4 million in expenditures.
The House approved rules last year that requires any bill with earmarks to include a list identifying each one and the members who requested it. Members and their spouses are prohibited from benefiting from earmarks, and they are not supposed to use an earmark to influence other members. Senators must disclose their earmarks at least 48 hours before a Senate vote on them. They are prohibited from having a financial interest in the project.
The rules in both chambers forbid members from earmarking projects in return for campaign contributions, but they find ways to skirt them. "Is there quid pro quo? No, not directly," said Frank Cushing, a lobbyist with the National Group, which lobbies on appropriation bills, "but you'd have to be pretty dense not to figure it out."
For example, Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, a member of the House defense appropriations committee, earmarked $2.4 million for the Greentree Group of Beavercreek, Ohio. The Greentree Group's executives, their families and consultants have donated $43,350 to Hobson's campaign chest since 2000.
Abercrombie voted against last year's reforms, calling them "window dressing" that failed to put a cap on political contributions and campaign expenditures. That should be addressed in future legislation.