As a longtime Chicago guy myself, I recall Chicagoans who were personally repulsed by legendary Congressman Dan Rostenkowski's ethics problems, but voted for him anyway because of the pork he was able to provide for the city. His post as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee kept him at the controls of the federal tap. His electoral invulnerability was a variant of the old maxim, "He may be a bastard, but he is our bastard".
Now history seems to repeat itself as Rostenkowski's successor in his district (Rostenkowski was forced out of Congress and had a stint in jail for corruption) Rahm Emanuel seems to be channeling the master, fining clever ways to hide earmarks and channel pork to satiate hungry constituents. Emanuel has supplied the weasel logic being used by him and his party: that Democrats had never actually promised to eliminate earmarks but just reform the process of earmarking. Rahm defended earmarks-we wanted to "reform" not end earmarks- in this New York Times op-ed.
Congressman David Obey went a step further in the weasel word game, saying that the provision was not an earmark under the rules.
"An earmark is something that is requested by an individual member," Obey said. "This item was not requested by any individual member; it was put in the bill by me."
His statement is almost reminiscent of the words attributed to Louis XIV: L'État, c'est moi. (I am the state), referring to his ability as King to exercise absolute power. One more Obeyism to add to his ever-expanding repertoire of unintended displays of wit.
It turns out that the reformed process just hides the abuse better. That is not really reforming the process, but obfuscating it. The Washington Post takes Rahm and the Democrats to task for violating their pledges of reform and highlights many instances of earmarking for political and campaigning purposes.
Earmarks have in effect achieved what the proponents of the check off system for tax returns (the box on your tax returns that allow you to allocate money from your taxes to finance election campaigns) have always desired: using tax money to pay for campaigns.
But the game has changed with the arrival of the new media. Bloggers have often taken upon the role of "outing" earmarks since Congressmen seem intent on refusing to disclose them. Instapundit, Captain's Quarters, Powerline, Michelle Malkin and others, most notably the Sunlight Foundation, a think-tank that takes to heart Supreme Court Justice's Louis Brandeis's dictum that "sunlight is the best of disinfectants" and works to expose earmarks.