Disgusting

by Russ Roberts on February 7, 2012

in Politics

If what is legal becomes the norm rather than what is moral, we are all going to be very poor. The names of these people should be on the front page of the Washington Post every day until election day and their constituents should vote them out of office regardless of what they have “accomplished” with other people’s money.

This isn’t just pork. It’s special pork. I don’t know what to call it. Maybe the other other white meat.  Please use the comments for better suggestions.

From the Washington Post:

A U.S. senator from Alabama directed more than $100 million in federal earmarks to renovate downtown Tuscaloosa near his own commercial office building. A congressman from Georgia secured $6.3 million in taxpayer funds to replenish the beach about 900 feet from his island vacation cottage. A representative from Michigan earmarked $486,000 to add a bike lane to a bridge within walking distance of her home.

Thirty-three members of Congress have directed more than $300 million in earmarks and other spending provisions to dozens of public projects that are next to or within about two miles of the lawmakers’ own property, according to a Washington Post investigation.

Under the ethics rules Congress has written for itself, this is both legal and undisclosed.

The Post analyzed public records on the holdings of all 535 members and compared them with earmarks members had sought for pet projects, most of them since 2008. The process uncovered appropriations for work in close proximity to commercial and residential real estate owned by the lawmakers or their family members. The review also found 16 lawmakers who sent tax dollars to companies, colleges or community programs where their spouses, children or parents work as salaried employees or serve on boards.

Read the whole thing. Here’s another excerpt to whet your appetite:

In March 2007, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), leaders of the House Ethics Committee at the time, defined a financial interest as “a direct and foreseeable effect” on a lawmaker’s assets.

“Remote, inconsequential or speculative interests” do not count, they wrote in an advisory opinion to members.

A few months later, the committee weighed in on the case of Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who was seeking an earmark to build a bus terminal and park-and-ride center near seven commercial properties he owned in Corona, Calif. Five of them were within one mile of the project; one was less than three blocks away.

The committee found no conflict for Calvert. “It appears that any increase in the value of your properties resulting from the earmark would be incremental and indirect,” Tubbs Jones and Hastings wrote, “and would be experienced as a member of a class of landholders in the vicinity of the Transit Center.”

Two years later, Hastings himself sought an earmark for a project near property he was selling to his brother. In 2009, he secured $750,000 toward the planning of a new bridge that will replace an outdated railroad underpass in Pasco, Wash.

As Congress required, Hastings certified that he and his wife had “no financial interest” in the earmark. Hastings noted on his Web site that the project would “improve the safety of motorists and pedestrians, while improving freight mobility and response times for emergency services.”

He said nothing, however, about its proximity to Columbia Basin Paper & Supply, the janitorial supply company that Hastings owned and ran until he was elected. His brother now operates the company. County records show Hastings and his wife still own the land and a 7,000-square-foot building. The overpass, as planned, will start about three blocks away.

Hastings does not list the business property on his financial disclosure form. His press secretary said debts owed by immediate family members — spouses, parents, children or siblings — do not have to be reported.

“After winning election in 1994, the Congressman acted to remove himself from the business as he took office and made an agreement with his brother for him to purchase it over time,” wrote Erin Daly, Hastings’s press secretary.

City officials said replacing the underpass is one of their top priorities.

In an interview, Hastings said the location of his property had no bearing on his support for the project.

“It never crossed my mind,” he said. “Every business in Pasco will benefit by that.”

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