There are earmarks and... then there are earmarks. Not every earmark goes to line the pockets of corrupt congressional earmarkers and their cronies the way characters like Duke Cunningham, Don and Bill Young (R-AK & FL), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), and Ken Calvert (R-CA) have worked it. There are also the kinds of earmarks that are exactly what members of Congress are supposed to be doing for their constituents. This is what the L.A. Times had to say about one of southern California's most corrupt congressmen in history, Ken Calvert. (Be sure to take a look at what the Fox News report has to say about his shady dealings in the video below; great reporting by Chris Wallace.)
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) is an experienced investor in Riverside County's booming real estate market, so he's used to seeing prices change quickly. Last year, he and a partner paid $550,000 for a dusty four-acre parcel just south of March Air Reserve Base. Less than a year later, without even cutting the weeds or carting off old septic tank parts that littered the ground, they sold the land for almost $1 million.
Even for a speculator like Calvert, it was an unusually good deal.
During the time he owned the land, Calvert used the legislative process known as earmarking to secure $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles from the property, and an additional $1.5 million to support commercial development of the area around the airfield.
A map of Calvert's recent real estate holdings and those of his partner shows many of them near the transportation projects he has supported with federal appropriations. And improvements to the transportation infrastructure have contributed to the area's explosive growth, according to development experts.
That"s the bad kind of earmarks -- the kind Republicans know the most about and engage in as a matter of course. But there's another kind of earmark, the kind not meant to enrich oneself but to benefit the constituents of your district. Pinpointing federal tax dollars to assist their districts is actually a core Constitutional responsibility of elected Representatives. Sure, the vast majority of Republicans as well as some other bad apples have used the earmarking process to benefit themselves, their families and contributors and lobbyists and corporations that will kick back money to them, but that shouldn't lead to a wholesale negation of the benefits of the process. Since the GOP was voted out of power the whole earmarking process has been reformed so that it's now all out in the open and much less likely to be used the way Republicans use it. And now, of course, the GOP is opposing it. All but three of them, Anh Cao, Don Young and Ron Paul, have opted out of the Republican Party drama queen stunt of condemning all earmarks (until they can get back into power and change the rules back towards the corruption they thrive on). Meanwhile, they're threatening Cao, Young and Paul with being thrown off their committee seats. Cao and Paul do not make earmarks to benefit themselves, only for their constituents. Young, of course, is as corrupt as your garden variety Republican and sees the earmark process as a kind of piggy bank for himself and his campaign donors.
Keep in mind that in the Senate the two most prodigious earmarkers are Mississippi Republicans Thad Cochran ($470,857,775) and Roger Wicker ($390,993,300). And David "Diapers" Vitter ($249,182,063) is not far behind. A couple days ago I talked with Orange County Democrat Beth Krom, an Irvine City Council member and former mayor running for Congress against one of the more cynical members of Congress, John Campbell, who always puts his extremist ideology before the needs of his constituents.
[H]e's signed an "anti-earmark" pledge, and considers any appropriation an earmark. So when Newport Beach needed federal funds to dredge out the Back Bay-- one of the few wetlands remaining in Orange County-- Campbell said NO. And when UC Irvine competes for federal grants to advance biomedical research or new technologies, Campbell won't lift a finger to help. It doesn't matter how meritorious the request, Campbell will not go to bat for his constituents.
Bottom line: we send billions of dollars to Washington in taxes every year, and he works every day to make sure not one penny comes back. If that's not "taxation without representation, " I don't know what is.
Just a few districts over from Campbell's another far right extremist, Trent Franks (R-AZ), is also angering municipal officials-- including Republicans-- by throwing their cities under the bus. The very right-wing Arizona Republic, the biggest newspaper in Franks' congressional district, reports some very disappointing news for his constituents.
Congressman Trent Franks, R-Arizona, pulled a $10 million earmark that would have helped build an interchange at Bell Road and Grand Avenue, said Michael Celaya, intergovernmental relations director, at Thursday's City Council work session.
Celaya visited the nation's capital in early March with council members Sharon Wolcott and Richard Alton to meet with several members of the Arizona congressional delegation.
The earmark for the interchange, submitted during fiscal 2009-10, was nearly guaranteed to the city, Celaya said, but "they (lawmakers) pulled from everybody."
Another blow: Franks, who represents Surprise in Congress, declined to submit an appropriation request for the expansion of Litchfield Road. That was a priority in the city's fiscal 2011 legislative agenda.
The good news: Congressman Ed Pastor, D-Arizona, known as Surprise's "silent champion," is submitting a $713,000 appropriation request to fund technology upgrades at the Surprise Police Department. The Surprise team turned to Pastor after Franks declined to submit the proposal.
John Thrasher is the Democrat running against Franks and he was as angry as everyone else in the area. "As your congressman, you can rest assured your fair share of tax dollars sent to Washington will come home to fund projects the current Congressman has deemed unnecessary" John told residents of Surprise, just northwest of Phoenix. "Like public safety... In pulling the funding to fix this dangerous intersection, Franks said no to public safety, no to job creation, and once again takes Arizona further down the wrong track."
The rapidly growing city of around 110,000 is pretty affluent-- median income for a family was $47,899 in 2000-- and a part of the district which has supported Franks' career. One Republican City Councilmember, on the condition of anonymity, told us today that several of them "would work behind the scenes for Franks' defeat... He doesn't care about the people in this district; he's never cared about anything but Trent Franks. I've never voted for a Democrat in my entire life, not for anything, but I'll be voting for Thrasher in November and so will lots of other people as angry as I am over this... This kind of game-playing is what turns people off to Washington, except it isn't Barack Obama; it's Trent Franks and John McCain. Ed Pastor didn't have to do what he did for us but it was the Christian thing to do. We won't forget him either."
Out of 435 Congressional Districts we pay the 13th highest amount in Federal taxes, and we only see a fraction of those dollars come from home.
My opponent, Leonard Lance, is pulling another political stunt at the expense of the taxpayers in our District, passing up tens of millions of dollars that could have funded critical priorities in our neighborhoods. These so-called "savings" will not go to deficit reduction; he is just aiming to score political points instead of working to improve our communities.
The families in the 7th Congressional District deserve to see the benefits of their tax dollars at home. Maybe its time that, we the citizens, have more of say in how we spend our money. Leonard used to place the interests of his constituents ahead of the politics of partisanship, but all you hear from him these days is national Republican talking points. Leonard has changed; he is not the Leonard we knew.
When I am in Congress I will fight to ensure the Federal government invests in projects across the 7th District to create jobs and strengthen our economy, increase our safety and security, and improve business opportunities and education.