May 12, 2008
The Earmark That Backfired
By James Wilson
Today's Downsizer-Dispatch . . . In 2005 Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska championed a $10 million earmark for a highway interchange. The earmark appeared in an 835-page transportation bill called SAFETEA-LU. Rep. Young was the man behind Alaska's infamous $233 million "Bridge to Nowhere," so this sounds like nothing unusual for him, except that . . .

  • The project wasn't in Alaska, but as far away as possible, in the Florida district of Republican Rep. Connie Mack.
  •   Mack and other local Republicans opposed the project. There were environmental concerns and higher priorities.
  • But they were told that they had to accept the project or risk losing future federal funds.

Why? Because a local developer who owned 4,000 acres near the proposed interchange had raised $40,000 for Rep. Young's re-election campaign. The interchange would multiply the value of his land. When asked about it by a reporter for the New York Times Rep. Young responded with an obscene gesture.

But there's more:

  • This earmark wasn't even in the 835-page bill passed by the House and Senate.
  • The original earmark (#462) was for widening I-75, not for an interchange.
  • After the bill passed, but before President Bush signed it, someone changed it to an interchange project.
  • This was done during the "enrollment"process when punctuation and other technical corrections are made.
  • But this was clearly a substantive change, not a "technical correction."
Incredibly, no one noticed the change for two years! Finally . . .

  • In August, 2007, a former Department of Labor official, Darla Latourneau, reported that the interchange didn't appear in the original bill passed by the House and Senate.
  • The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to return the money, asking that it be used for its original purpose.
  • That change was included this year in H.R. 1195, which passed both the House and Senate.
  • H.R. 1195 also includes a provision for the Justice Department to investigate the alteration of the earmark.
Little investigation is actually needed. Don Young's staff has admitted that they made the change, but no member of the House has filed an ethics complaint. Without a complaint, the House ethics committee can't investigate.

Have other House members done something similar? Is it common practice? Could this be why no one has complained to the ethics committee?

How did this happen? As Darla Latourneau says, "If this had come to light right after the bill had passed, there would have been a very quick technical amendment. This should not have happened."  But how could it ever have come to light, given that Congress NEVER READS THE LAWS THEY PASS!

The Read the Bills Act (RTBA) would make frauds like this impossible.

  • If Rep. Mack had read SAFETEA-LU, as RTBA would require, he could have caught and corrected Young's change.
  • If SAFETEA-LU had been posted on the Internet seven days before passage, as RTBA requires, the Lee County government could have found which earmarks were for them, and asked for a correction immediately.
And if RTBA were the law its very unlikely we would have 835-page appropriations bills where things can get buried. Bills would be shorter, and probably fewer. Congress would have to prioritize. They would do less and spend less. There would be fewer earmarks. Perhaps only Florida taxpayers would determine which projects were best for them. And the Committee chairs in Congress would have less ability to buy and sell favors.

Demand that your Representative and your two Senators introduce the Read the Bills Act. Use your personal comments to mention the above example of why RTBA is needed. Also ask your Representative to file a complaint with the ethics committee, demanding an investigation of Rep. Young. You can send your message here.

You can also spread the word about the Read the Bills Act by joining the RTBA Coalition. Add an RTBA Coalition button, banner, or web-ad to your website or blog. In return, we'll announce your membership in a future Dispatch, reaching nearly 22,000 subscribers. You'll also be listed on our blog. Details are here.

This week we welcome three new members to the Coalition:

Beach Banter
Sovereign Justice
A Free Society

Finally, last week the House passed nine bills amounting to 299 pages, while the Senate passed one 4 -page bill. The list of bills is found below my signature in the blog version of this Dispatch.


James Wilson
Assstant to the President The following are the bills the House and Senate passed last week. The bills were passed by voice vote except where indicated. Roll call votes for the House are found here, and for the Senate here. The descriptions of bills are essentially taken verbatim from the Congressional Record Daily Digest. Page numbers of bills are based on the pdf display of the latest version from the Government Printing Office. SENATE 1 bill, 4 pages House of Representatives Salary Schedule: Committee on Rules and Administration was discharged from further consideration of H.R. 5493, to provide that the usual day for paying salaries in or under the House of Representatives may be established by regulations of the Committee on House Administration, and the bill was then passed . 4 pages HOUSE 9 bills, 299 pages Amending the Foreign Service Act of 1980 to permit rest and recuperation travel to United States territories for members of the Foreign Service: H.R. 3658, to amend the Foreign Service Act of 1980 to permit rest and recuperation travel to United States territories for members of the Foreign Service, by a \2/3\ yea-and-nay vote of 416 yeas with none voting ``nay'', Roll No. 249; 2 pages Temporarily extending the programs under the Higher Education Act of 1965: S. 2929, amended, to temporarily extend the programs under the Higher Education Act of 1965, by a \2/3\ recorded vote of 408 ayes with none voting ``no'', Roll No. 256; 1 page Facilitating the preservation of certain affordable housing dwelling units: H.R. 5937, to facilitate the preservation of certain affordable housing dwelling units, by a \2/3\ recorded vote of 345 ayes to 73 noes, Roll No. 277. 6 pages Neighborhood Stabilization Act of 2008: The House passed H.R. 5818, to authorize the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to make loans to States to acquire foreclosed housing and to make grants to States for related costs, by a recorded vote of 239 ayes to 188 noes, Roll No. 299. Consideration of the measure began on Wednesday, May 7th. 40 pages Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008: H.R. 4279, amended, to enhance remedies for violations of intellectual property laws, by a \2/3\ recorded vote of 410 ayes to 11 noes, Roll No. 300; 74 pages Exempting the African National Congress from treatment as a terrorist organization for certain acts or events, provide relief for certain members of the African National Congress regarding admissibility: H.R. 5690, amended, to exempt the African National Congress from treatment as a terrorist organization for certain acts or events and to provide relief for certain members of the African National Congress regarding admissibility; 4 pages Amending the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for compensation to States incarcerating undocumented aliens charged with a felony or two or more misdemeanors: H.R. 1512, to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for compensation to States incarcerating undocumented aliens charged with a felony or two or more misdemeanors; 4 pages Coin Modernization and Taxpayer Savings Act of 2008: H.R. 5512, amended, to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to prescribe the weights and the compositions of circulating coins. 14 pages Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008: The House agreed to the Senate amendment with amendments, made in order by the rule and printed in H. Rept. 110-622, to H.R. 3221, moving the United States toward greater energy independence and security, developing innovative new technologies, reducing carbon emissions, creating green jobs, protecting consumers, increasing clean renewable energy production, and modernizing our energy infrastructure, and to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide tax incentives for the production of renewable energy and energy conservation. 154 pages
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