What is Earmark Spending?
Earmarks are funds allocated in the annual federal budget by individual legislators for special projects or purposes serving only their state or local constituents, rather than all taxpayers. Gaining the approval of earmark projects typically helps the sponsoring legislator earn the votes of his or her constituents. Earmark spending typically results in the expenditure of large sums of taxpayer money to benefit a limited number of people. Often tucked into the federal budget's annual appropriations bills as line-item amendments, earmarks are criticized as circumventing the established federal budget process and being rushed through Congress without the full debate and scrutiny devoted to the parent bill. The House Appropriations Committee receives about 35,000 earmark spending requests every year.
Notable Pork of the Past Decade
According to criteria established by the bi-partisan Citizens Against Government Waste, the U.S. Congress approved earmark spending projects worth over $208 billion during the last 10 years - 2000 through 2009. The following, as identified by the Citizens Against Government Waste, are a few examples of the best of the worst. Whenever possible, links to these projects are provided just so you'll know I'm not making this stuff up.
2000 ($17.7 billion in earmark spending)
$1.75 million for animal waste research at the University of Missouri and Purdue University2001 ($18.5 billion in earmark spending)
$1 million for a dinosaur exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History
$22.5 million to the East/West Center, North/South Center (no longer funded) and the Asia Foundation
1.5 million to refurbish the Vulcan Statue in Birmingham, Alabama (increased to $2 million in 2002)2002 ($20.1 billion in earmark spending)
$1.4 million for the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center and the Cochran Fellowship Program - appropriated by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi)
$25 million for the International Fund for Ireland
$50,000 for a tattoo removal program in San Luis Obispo, California2003 ($22.5 billion in earmark spending)
Another $2 million grant to refurbish that Vulcan Statue in Birmingham, Alabama
$202,500 for the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds in Dothan, Alabama2004 ($22.9 billion in earmark spending)
$250,000 for a National Preschool Anger Management Project ("What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel?")
$9.5 million for "wood research"
$2.25 million for Shakespeare-related projects2005 ($27.3 billion in earmark spending)
$2.2 million for projects to benefit North Pole, Alaska -- and its 1,570 residents
$200,000 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
$50 million for an indoor rainforest in Coralville, Iowa
$25,000 for the Clark County, Nevada School District for curriculum development to study mariachi music2006 ($29 billion in earmark spending)
$75,000 for the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame and $70,000 for the Paper Industry Hall of Fame (tax exempt)
$100,000 for the Tiger Woods Foundation
$100,000 for the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center Museum (home of Groundhog Day)
$1 million for a Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative2007 (Pork takes an all too short holiday)
$13.5 million for the International Fund for Ireland, including funds for the World Toilet Summit
$500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum in Sparta, North Carolina (I'm an expensive little teapot…")
$550,000 for the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington
During 2007, pork barrel spending dropped to $13.2 billion, a significant decrease from the $29 billion spent in 2006. In 2007, nine of the 11 annual spending bills were subject to a moratorium on earmark spending that was enforced by House and Senate Appropriations Committee. In 2008, however, a similar moratorium proposal failed and earmark spending jumped to $17.2 billion.2008 ($17.2 billion in earmark spending)
$211,509 for olive fruit fly research in Paris, France2009 ($19.6 billion in earmark spending)
$148,950 for the Montana Sheep Institute
$98,000 to develop a walking tour of Boydton, Virginia
$196,000 to renovate the historic downtown Las Vegas Post Office
$1.9 million for a water taxi service to Pleasure Beach, Connecticut - population 0Yes, federal spending should smell much sweeter during the 2010s.
And, speaking of pork barrel spending, we finished up the decade with:
$1.8 million in swine odor and manure management research in Ames Iowa