Tag Archive: earmarks

NJ-7: Summer’s Ending: Retire the Flip Flops

I’m pleased to share a campaign update with Blue Jersey’s readers today.  Rosi has been after me for a while to write here and I’m happy to finally get the opportunity.  As many of you know, my name is Ed Potosnak and I’m the Democratic candidate for New Jersey’s 7th district.  I am a science teacher and a small business owner determined to take my real world experience to Washington to get the job done for our communities.  I’m running because I am concerned that America is losing its edge and my opponent Congressman Leonard Lance is more concerned with keeping his own job in Washington than with the job creation, industry development, and improvements in educational opportunities needed to make sure America remains competitive in the increasingly global economy.  

This past week, I’ve been taking Mr. Lance to task on his conflicting statements and actions regarding the appropriations process since his 2008 campaign.  When State Senator Lance was campaigning for Congress, he signed a pledge stating that he would not request federal earmarks. Once in Washington, he quickly sought to obtain earmarks (nearly $21 million in requests).  Mr. Lance changed his stance on earmarks again this year, under coercion of the conservative Republican leadership.  This led a conservative watchdog group to give Leonard Lance the “Jekyll and Hyde” award this April.  

Just last week, Mr. Lance complained to a constituent that New Jersey was a ‘donor state’ in terms of paying federal taxes and getting little in return.  I agree: it is a major concern that we in the 7th district have the 13th highest tax burden of the 435 congressional districts and we receive a fraction of that money back from the federal government.  Of course, when we have a representative like Mr. Lance who doesn’t ask for the funding, we’re certainly not going see an increase in tax revenues invested here.  I’m tired of career politicians like Mr. Lance who act one way in Washington and then say what they think voters want to hear back at home.  What the voters want to hear is an honest answer.  I called out Mr. Lance on his earmark hypocrisy, and his office issued a weak denial, claiming he didn’t flip flop on the issue.

Follow me to the jump, for the timeline of this.


The $15 million earmark that no one knows anything about

The Daily Record is looking into earmarks and they seem to have found a sizeable one that no one knows anything about:

Our interest here, however, has to do with the Washington custom of earmarks, the practice of lawmakers adding appropriations to budget bills for favored projects in their state or district. In total, earmarks often represent billions of dollars in federal spending. Earlier this year, Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Bergen, proposed a $15 million earmark for Insitech. That’s a lot of money for a non-profit trying to attract firms to do business with the army. The earmark has not been approved yet, but the new federal budget does not start until Oct. 1.

Here’s where things get interesting. A spokesman for Rothman told the Daily Record last week that she didn’t know anything about the earmark. InSitech’s CEO said he couldn’t talk about it, and spokesmen for Picatinny and Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, R-Harding, who normally proposes earmarks for the base, said they were unaware of it.

How fascinating that a proposed expenditure of $15 million in federal money is so easy to lose.

That’s a lot of money for no one to know anything about. There has to be more to this story, because something doesn’t add up. And how does Frelinghuysen have a significant amount of money earmarked for his district and he has no idea bout it? That’s effective representation.

Lance named April 2009 “Porker of the Month”

Poor Leonard.  First he votes against the stimulus and gets called out on taking credit for the benefits.  Now because of his support for certain earmarks, the pledge police are after him for breaking his word:

Citizens Against Government Waste designated Lance, who campaigned as a fiscal conservative, among its “April 2009 Porkers of the Month.”

“Every year members of Congress betray the taxpayers’ trust by bloating the budget with earmarks, but this betrayal is particularly acute because [Lance and two other freshman representatives] broke their signed campaign pledges just a few months after being sworn into the 111th Congress,” Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said in a statement.

The pledge Lance signed said he would not request earmarks that do not “serve a federal interest and/or have a federal nexus.”

Lance’s staff decided to make up their own rules for the pledge they signed to justify his earmarking:

“Promoting energy efficiency, better health care and a cleaner environment serve the national interest and therefore does not violate the pledge,” Mitchell said. “Congressman Lance is proud of his long-standing record as a fiscal conservative and looks forward to working with Citizens Against Government Waste on advancing earmark accountability and transparency in Congress.”

So their excuse is Leonard can decide what breaks the pledge and what doesn’t?   I don’t really care if he requests earmarks for his district and it wouldn’t even be an issue if he didn’t try to pander by signing the pledge to get support in an election. He’s supposed to advocate on behalf of the needs of his district and Republicans regularly complain about how little money we get back from the Federal government. Just like taking credit for stimulus dollars he opposed, Leonard got caught with his hand in two cookie jars.  My how quickly things change because just recently he was tagging his opponent as a spender and then within six months on the job himself, he ends up being named the porker .

Reforming earmarks, or boasting about them?

I’m getting the impression that the latest earmark reform made them even more attractive. Last year, lawmakers had to disclose the earmarks they got placed in laws. This year, House members must disclose even their earmark requests on their websites. It’s worked out fantastically for the South Jersey Representatives. The Courier-Post’s headline is Earmarks may aid S.J.:

Transportation programs, beach replenishment projects, defense contractors, military bases, universities, hospitals and social service agencies would share hundreds of millions of federal dollars if New Jersey lawmakers succeed in inserting their requests for special projects into the 2010 budget.

The Press of Atlantic City has the more neutral LoBiondo, Adler post funding requests, and reporter Daniel Walsh points out that it’s highly unlikely that these hundreds of millions will appear.  LoBiondo’s $192 million and Adler’s $238 million sound impressive, yet last year LoBiondo got “only” $17 million.

While it’s good that the earmark requests are not secret, I can’t help but think this is all a free ad for the lawmakers: Look at the all people I stood up for! Vote for me! But in the rooms where no cameras are running, and no meeting minutes are posted to the web, I doubt very much that most of these earmarks are being seriously pushed.  

They should just say they support earmarks

I’m not in the business of parsing earmarks to decide which projects are worthy of funding and those that don’t make the cut.   But I have a particular interest in our Representatives saying one thing and doing another.  Take for example Scott Garrett and Rodney Frelinghuysen.  Let’s see what they have said about earmarks in the past.  Jvoterinfo has this statement from Garrett’s 2008 website, which is no longer live:

Scott Garrett remains a leading critic of frivolous earmarks.

Maybe he thinks it’s all how you define frivolous?  After including earmarks in the current omnibus spending bill and then voting against it, his press secretary must have gotten dizzy giving this quote:

“Rep. Garrett strongly concurs and has advocated tirelessly for the reduction in the overall size of the federal government,” she wrote. “In this vein, he opposed the omnibus spending bill because it greatly increased government spending. He does believe his constituents deserve to receive as much benefit from their tax dollars as possible and is supportive of projects which benefit his constituents.”

So he’ll take credit for the projects while opposing them because increasing government spending is bad, unless its spending he specifically asks for? Moving on to Rodney Frelinghuysen and why he opposed the omnibus spending bill:

I rise in opposition to this omnibus appropriations bill for many reasons, not the least of which is that this bill adds even more spending on top of the stimulus package that we just passed.

Ok, a very principled stand, unless you dig deeper to find out that Rodney helped add $173 million onto that spending:

“As a member of the Appropriations Committee, it is my job to look after the needs of my district and state, especially when New Jersey ranks 50th out of the 50 states in federal taxpayer dollars coming back home,” Frelinghuysen said in a statement Wednesday. “I will continue to support New Jersey priorities.”

So while Garrett draws the line at defining frivolous, Rodney makes his stand on the borders with New Jersey earmarks.  Either way, their rhetoric on spending rings hollow when they help contribute to the same process they try to convince the voters they oppose. Even the president of the NJ taxpayer alliance recognizes the hypocrisy of their arguments:

“It’s interesting the way the system plays out,” he said. “Everybody rails against it, then when the truck backs up with the money, everybody wants to get a piece of the pie, too. …

They should just say they support earmarks. The question then becomes, how should you decide which ones to support and how do you best inform the citizens of that decision making process.

Lautenberg, Zimmer and Earmarks

I still don’t think that the voting public fully understands the issue of earmarking in Congress in terms of all the intricacies in the process. That hasn’t stopped candidates from trying to demagogue the issue as a standard talking point of campaigns this election cycle. Dick Zimmer has repeatedly made this statement on earmarks:

“I don’t want to play the game better; I would shut it down,” Zimmer said.

In the past, I have had Dick Zimmer respond to himself on this issue. This is what I wrote on Sept 7:

Very strong response on how terrible earmarks are, until he starts talking out of the other side of his mouth to defend the earmarks of one Rodney Frelinghuysen:

He said the pledge he signed “does not say I will not sponsor earmarks. It says earmarks should be transparent, they should be justified.”

Zimmer said that from what he sees, Frelinghuysen’s earmarks comply with that criteria. You can call that the GOP bond.

So we’ve already pointed out the hypocrisy of Zimmer’s position, but today we get Frank Lautenberg responding to the statement that Zimmer wants to shut down the process:

“I hope he will tell the truth and say he will work very hard to make sure there is no extra money brought back to New Jersey.”

The ironic thing is that while Zimmer goes around with his dollar bill demonstration talking about how little New Jersey gets back from the Federal government, he proudly touts (sometimes) that he will not do anything to help change that. Rather than fix what has become a broken process by providing more transparency and other protective measures, Zimmer wants to score political points which completely contradict with another standard talking point in his stump speech. And he wonders why he isn’t getting any traction.

Zimmer was against earmarks before he was for them

Barack Obama called shenanigans on Sarah Palin’s laughable, hypocritical statement on earmarks:

But, you know, when you’ve been taking all these earmarks when it’s convenient, and then suddenly you’re the champion anti-earmark person, that’s not change. Come on! I mean, words mean something, you can’t just make stuff up.”

Maybe Dick Zimmer and Sarah Palin have been talking, because the same statement applies.

Zimmer has run his campaign on the evils of earmarks attacking Frank Lautenberg for just about everything, except for the things Lautenberg hasn’t gotten for NJ, which Zimmer attacks for as well. There’s a story in the Daily Record today about how Dick Zimmer and Tom Wyka agree on getting rid of earmarks, only they don’t.  Wyka is consitent, while you can judge Zimmer’s position for yourself.  First, he says this:

Zimmer doesn’t think the earmark game looks good, either, saying, “I don’t want to play the pork-barrel game better; I want to shut it down.”

Very strong response on how terrible earmarks are, until he starts talking out of the other side of his mouth to defend the earmarks of one Rodney Frelinghuysen:

He said the pledge he signed “does not say I will not sponsor earmarks. It says earmarks should be transparent, they should be justified.”

Zimmer said that from what he sees, Frelinghuysen’s earmarks comply with that criteria. You can call that the GOP bond.

So Dick Zimmer hates earmarks and wants to end them altogether, unless he decides they are ok later in the same article? Maybe Dick Zimmer was against earmarks before he was for them.   I guess he’s not opposed to all earmarks, just those he designates as not important (i.e. ones by Democrats).

Wyka Renews Call to Fix Earmarks

Parsippany, September 2, 2008-Tom Wyka is asking the New Jersey Congressional delegation to support a moratorium on “earmark” spending. “Earmarking has become an industry, with campaign contributions being viewed as ‘investments.’ Last March, the Senate failed to pass an amendment banning earmark spending for a year. I suggest that the New Jersey Congressional delegation support a moratorium on earmarks. Dick Zimmer, John McCain, and Barack Obama have already expressed support.”

An “earmark” is a provision in legislation that directs funds to be spent on specific projects. Typically, legislators use it to direct a specified amount of money to a particular organization or project in their home state or district. Earmarking is different from the appropriation of money to a particular government agency, because the appropriate executive department can exercise discretion as to where and how those funds are spent. The use of earmarks in the House of Representatives and the Senate has has expanded significantly over the past few decades, but it is becoming increasingly controversial. Some nonprofit organizations, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the nation’s top universities, refuse to accept grants and contracts funded by earmarks.

“I’m all for getting funding for worthy projects in your district. But what bothers me is the process,” explained Wyka. “Earmarks undergo little or no debate in Congress, they are not subject to competitive bidding or administrative review, and they are seldom reported on by the press. Earmarks are usually added at a late phase to large bills that fund the federal government. If you are a Congressperson or a Senator, you then can’t oppose the earmark without voting against the whole bill. So there’s no easy way to stop it. Then there’s log-rolling, which means that members support bills with another member’s earmarks, in hope that the other member will support theirs. It gets out of control quickly. It’s also unfair, because it doesn’t direct funds to the most-deserving projects. Whether an earmark makes its way into a bill depends on the seniority and power of the member supporting it, not on the worthiness of the cause.”

According to Wyka, “Not only is the earmark process often unfair, but it often leads to corruption. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham of California pled guilty to taking bribes in exchange for earmarks and was sent to prison. That was an extreme case, but it is also common for earmarks to go to a member’s campaign contributors. For example, according the Seattle Times’ report titled ‘The Favor Factory,’ my opponent Rodney Frelinghuysen had $83 million in defense earmarks in 2007. From 2001 to 2007, he had received $327,100 in contributions from the earmark recipients. It doesn’t look good.”

Wyka explains, “We will eventually solve part of this problem by public funding for national political campaigns. Americans for Campaign Reform estimate that we could publicly fund all races for national office-that’s House of Representatives, Senate, and President-for just $6 per person. We would save far more than that per person in pork-barrel spending alone, because members of Congress would no longer have to reward their big fundraisers. In 2007, we had a successful pilot project for public funding of campaigns in three legislative districts in New Jersey. It worked. And it’s the future. In the meantime, we need to think about how to deal with earmark spending. We need to stop the ‘quid pro quo’ one way or another.”

Jeff Flake, a Republican of Arizona, gave the following speech before the House of Representatives on September 26, 2007: “Among the many downsides to earmarking, and one that we rarely talk about on the House floor, is the practice of ‘circular fund-raising.’ Campaign donations are given to members, members secure earmarks benefiting their contributors, and contributors in turn are able to give members more donations. This cycle is repeated over and over and over. Unfortunately, this is a bipartisan practice. The media has reported on many such arrangements for members on both sides of the aisle. Legal issues aside, circular fund-raising does not pass the smell test. Whether it’s fair or not, the crimes of a few of our former colleagues have cast suspicion over us all. Continued rampant fund-raising is simply not worth the trust it costs us with our constituents. I think that most of us had higher aspirations when we came here, than groveling for crumbs that fall from appropriators’ tables. I hope that we, as members of Congress, will finally decide that enough is enough.”