The Problem with Earmarks

Personal political slush funds are nothing new. The problem with earmarks is that they are personal political slush funds funded with our money. Every time a member of Congress earmarks money for a project back home - or anywhere else in the world for that matter - it is our tax dollars that pay for it. The fact that they do it for personal political reasons adds insult to injury.

No doubt, most of the earmarks are "facially legitimate" in the sense of being arguably public spirited. But one person's public spirit is another person's pork. And that's the problem with earmarks. How do you give the imprimatur of approval to one person's "public spirited" project and withhold it from another? The answer is: you can't. And that is why earmarks have to end, or be effectively forestalled.

The human mind, being infinitely capable of rationalization, can always find a reason for doing just about anything, no matter how pernicious. But when it comes to spending public money, politicians actually push the envelope of human ingenuity. That is because there is so little transparency and virtually no accountability. That lack of transparency should now end, because that is the only way the people will be able to hold their elected representatives accountable for how they spend tax money for personal political reasons.

Therefore, I propose that the newly elected conservative Republican majority in the House of Representatives commit itself to one of two options. Either end earmarks completely starting on January 1, 2011; or, create a website beginning on January 1, 2011, on which every proposed earmark is described in full not less than one month before it can be incorporated into any legislation or resolution, with full disclosure about who is supporting the earmark and why they are doing so.

It's an odds-on bet that if our representatives have to go public with their earmarks, there will be a lot fewer earmarks. After last Tuesday's election, there is one thing those representatives know for sure: the American people are fed up with "business as usual" in Washington, D.C., especially when it concerns the profligate spending of hard-earned tax money.