Congresswoman: you want an earmark? Put a video about it online!

Discuss

30 Responses to “Congresswoman: you want an earmark? Put a video about it online!”

  1. dcamsam says:

    Before Maine sent Pingree to Congress, she was President and CEO of Common Cause, so her commitment to transparency comes as no surprise. The YouTube angle is clever; maybe it will make people realize that the money that the federal government spends goes to worthwhile projects in their community.

    In general, the reason that someone other than the town should pay for the DARE program if the town itself cannot afford it is the same reason that someone other than the town should pay for Social Security if the town itself cannot afford it; if the town needs the program its poverty should not deprive them of it.

    It’s easy to dismiss DARE as “pork”, but if this town has a meth problem, a small investment in DARE might mean a big savings in terms of local, state, and federal spending on drug treatment, law enforcement, and other programs necessitated by drug abuse. Attacking “pork” of that sort is simply penny-wise and pound-foolish.

    But the notion of earmarks is a separate issue. Ideally, these spending decisions would be made on the merit of the program, not on whether they have a politician to advocate on their behalf. I understand why a politician would do so, especially in an environment where they might lose money they deserve otherwise, but it would be good to reform the system so that an advocate is unnecessary.

    That said, IIRC, almost all money is distributed based on merit. Earmarks represent a sliver of federal spending, and the outrage over them is far out of proportion to their influence.

    • theosays says:

      Much of the outrage over earmarks is misunderstood. It’s not about how much is spent. It’s about the corruption and bureaucracy they entail, and the fact that they exist in the first place. By clogging legislation they damage and delay the law-passing process, and it is widely argued that the projects they fund are not the responsibility of the federal government, and should take place on the local level.

      • highlyverbal says:

        “Much of the outrage over earmarks is misunderstood. It’s not about how much is spent. It’s about the corruption and bureaucracy they entail”

        No, we understand the outrage…. what the ranters are failing to understand is more transparency has at least a decent chance of lowering the corruption involved. Transparency always does.

        Get it?

        This particular policy ameliorates the evils of earmarks. Harping on those evils makes you look dim.

    • okiedokie says:

      “In general, the reason that someone other than the town should pay for the DARE program if the town itself cannot afford it is the same reason that someone other than the town should pay for Social Security if the town itself cannot afford it; if the town needs the program its poverty should not deprive them of it.”

      Reread my post. A town of 3,000 people got $3,600 from the Feds. They could go through their pocket change, dig in their couch cushions and empty the ashtrays in their cars (all 3,000 people) and come up with $1.20 each.

      On top of that they would get the satisfaction that they helped themselves and got $3,600 worthy of DARE program for $3,600 instead of having it cost $5,000 to get $3,600 worth of program.

      My point is that a lot of communities CAN afford the programs that they are getting from the Feds, they just choose not to. If the Feds would cut them off, the programs would get funded, just with local money.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        If the Feds would cut them off, the programs would get funded, just with local money.

        In theory. Some towns in Northern California get flooded every few years. They will not vote to spend money for some flood abatement projects. They keep getting bailed out by the Feds, at great expense. It’s obnoxious. But if the Feds don’t bail them out, you have a dead town and ten thousand homeless people. Government money frequently protects stupid people from their own stupid selves. I wish that people weren’t too stupid too ensure their own survival, but I’m not holding my breath. Government, by virtue of its size, (sometimes if you’re lucky) sees the bigger picture.

      • dcamsam says:

        A town of 3,000 people got $3,600 from the Feds. They could go through their pocket change, dig in their couch cushions and empty the ashtrays in their cars (all 3,000 people) and come up with $1.20 each.

        Sorry, no. That town of 3,000 has to pay for police, fire, schools, etc., and in doing so has probably already scraped out every ashtray and couch. It doesn’t matter if it’s $1.2 million per person or $1.20 per person, you can’t squeeze blood from a stone.

        I’m sure that every line item in that town’s budget is inexpensive on a per person basis; that doesn’t mean that taken together, they are affordable.

  2. Rindan says:

    I have a much better idea of how to deal with congress folk taking bribes, um, I mean “ear marks” to vote for certain bills. Drop federal tax levels and bump the state tax levels. Want a fill-in-the-blank for your state? Awesome. Get it from the tax payers IN YOUR FREAKING STATE.

    Earmarks are not the end of the world. They are pocket change in the grand scheme of things. They still piss me off though. Dipping into the national pool to fund local crap is NOT what the federal government is for.

    • highlyverbal says:

      Rindan: One possible outcome of transparency might be fewer earmarks in general. Rants about earmarks miss the point.

    • tmdpny says:

      The federal government smoothes out the differences in each state. That’s why Idaho gets the same 2 representative Senators hat NY gets and they are all on equal footing.

      The same with how money is invested in our country – while the vast population is focused on the coasts, the Federal government spends massive monies in the mid-west and puts large federal buildings, offices, infrastructure in states without the population or economy to do it on their own. Overall, it creates an entire country we can all use equally. And many small pockets of population spread out over the US can all be treated rather fairly.

      Following your logic, NY and California would have so much overwhelming power in this country that it would make Mississippi virtually subservient to their desires because they can raise far more money from their populations then MS. As it stands, MS receives about $1.50 for every dollar they pay in taxes.

      • Steaming Pile says:

        You make an excellent point that is often lost in the debate over earmark abuse. Federal spending ensures that I can travel from any part of the United States to any other part, and be assured that I am still in the United States rather than in some Third World country.

        Take Dixie, for example. After Reconstruction, the southeastern states were still quite impoverished for nearly a century. I can only imagine the culture shock a New Yorker might have experienced when visiting South Carolina in the era prior to the New Deal. Revenue sharing (and air conditioning) has made the South livable, prosperous even.

        Where we run into problems is when Congress writes up a budget bill with thousands of these earmarks at one time. When you have thousands of individual items added to a bill, it is easy for a member of Congress to insert one completely unnoticed that is frivolous, fraudulent, or ill-advised. I would say that most members of Congress are about as conscientious as Rep. Pingree when it comes to making sure taxpayers aren’t getting ripped off, but there are some who are not. The beauty of what Rep. Pingree is doing is that it calls attention to what the latter group are doing.

        The problem I have with earmarks is that the federal government, in my opinion, should be concerning itself with macro issues, and earmarks address micro issues. We have the same problem with our state government in Albany (New York), where you wouldn’t believe the sheer number of requests for earmarks in amounts from $500 to $5000, or where they go. Money is spread thinly among every conceivable interest group as patronage in order to pacify them, and ensure their support in the next election. In other words, votes are being purchased with our tax dollars.

      • Rindan says:

        The federal government smoothes out the differences in each state. That’s why Idaho gets the same 2 representative Senators hat NY gets and they are all on equal footing.

        If that is what earmarks were used for, I might not be so annoyed by them. It isn’t. It is used to, flat out, bribe congress men and women. The relative of poverty of the state in question as exactly nothing to do with whether or not they get an earmark.

        Further, congress dishing out the earmark is utterly absurd. They are exactly the last people in the world who should be doing it. Think that Maine needs extra cash to even stuff out? Then give them cash! Do it openly, transparently, and in a single bill. Let the state legislators decide how they want to spend it.

        I can’t think of a political in the body in the us more unqualified to decide if the great state of Michigan needs cash for a new hospital than the US congress. If the goal was truly to “even things out”, there would be a single bill that we determine the cash dole outs to state governments, and that would be the end of it.

        That isn’t what happens because “evening things out” is not the purpose of earmarks.

    • orwellian says:

      I agree. It’d be better for democracy in general (ten people at your state senator’s office makes a much bigger impact than ten at the Capitol) and make corrupt business shenanigans more difficult to pull off. Fifty state attorney generals, fifty state EPAs, fifty times the lobbyists, fifty times the bribes, fifty times the chance of being caught.

  3. tophtucker says:

    hey, she’s my congresswoman! cool.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am *so* flagging those for copyright violation.

  5. Pantograph says:

    Isn’t this discrimination against the shy and the ugly?

    • Anonymous says:

      Isn’t this discrimination against the shy and the ugly?

      Not to mention the poor and those without technical acumen. Wouldn’t want those folks participating in the political process!

      This seems very silly to me.

  6. millions says:

    @Rindan: Sometimes dipping into the national pool to fund local stuff is exactly what the federal government is for, I think. Wouldn’t you agree that pooling funding and distributing it to where it is most needed is part of the obligation of belonging to a union of states? The transparency this representative is suggesting would bring that process a lot closer to the ideal, and help modernize our government while reinforcing the connection between representatives and their constituencies. I think it’s a great idea.

  7. theosays says:

    Why would you ever try to address very local issues via the federal government (the function of earmarks?). It is not the role of Washington D.C., and is in fact terrible way to solve local problems. Instead of getting legislation passed, earmarks are responsible for extreme delays and bring the Senate and House to a bureaucratic standstill. These things should be left to a State and/or Town/City government…

  8. tmdpny says:

    OMG I think this is a fantastic idea. It makes people see that there are real people looking for help in their community from federal projects, it gives an opportunity for open discussion on those topics… awesome.

    I think the challenge is moderating the comments, making sure that they come from the community and not other special interest groups and out of state stakeholders. And that’s the massive question – how can you find integrity in the feedback?

    Personally, I would like an earmark reform that states that the earmark must be appropriate to the spirit of the bill being up for a vote, but they unto themselves are not inapprorpiate.

    More open government and more governmental officials experimenting with open media. yipee!

  9. phisrow says:

    The first person to produce a video that is simultaneously a rickroll and an at least reasonably plausible earmark request shall be awarded 10,000 internet points.

  10. Lester says:

    I love this idea.

    Like it or not, earmarks are an absolute necessity — it is how elected representatives serve their constituents — but I don’t think anyone disagrees that they are also a vehicle for corruption. I think this would serve as a way of getting public feedback on earmarks, so that (hopefully) only the most deserving projects get funded.

  11. empirechick says:

    On the surface I admire this approach, if only because I’m sure people have no idea who gets what kind of federal money in their districts. But looking at her site, it doesn’t seem like going on tape does anything to slow down the requests, or her approval of them. Of nearly $300,000,000 worth of projects (including many from non-Maine companies), there are only 3 (totaling $2.5M) that she hasn’t recommended for inclusion in the 2011 budget.

    Upon further review, I’m with Rindan on this one – why should the federal govt pay for the City of Saco’s sidewalks? Nor should it pay for whatever pork my district is asking for.

    The transparency is a welcome change, but the system is definitely broken.

  12. okiedokie says:

    I think that earmarks have gotten out of hand when a town CAN fund something but they don’t. Last year a town in Texas got $3,600 in federal funds for their D.A.R.E. program. The community has 3,000 people in it. Can you sit there and tell me that these people couldn’t pitch in an average of $1.20 a person and do this themselves? And how much did that $3,600 cost us to collect from around the country, waste about 20% of it, and then ship it to them? Wow, our $5,000 becomes $3,600 into their pockets.

    Same damn thing happened here in Oklahoma City. We got $3 million for city buses. That’s about $2 a person in the area. We could raise that with a damn bakesale & bbq on a Bedlam weekend. Why don’t we? Cause the Government can do it for us.

    And regarding the building of Federal buildings in states, why should the states pay for Federal buildings in the first place? They are FEDERAL buildings, therefore the idea that the Feds are helping the states that can’t afford the buildings is silly at best.

  13. Ambiguity says:

    Well, regardless how you feel about earmarks in general, would you not agree that this level of transparency is a very good thing?

    Yes, I agree that the transparency is a good thing.

    On the other hand, doesn’t anyone ever read Marshall McLuhan anymore?

    I know I can’t wait until the official, on-the-record version of the Constitution is ported over to twitter feed. Maybe it will loose a little of its nuance, but Hey! it’ll be really cool and really accessible!

  14. Anonymous says:

    I fear she might end up with lots of “Two girls, one earmark” videos.

  15. Lobster says:

    The Good: Encourages people to put a little effort into their request for a handout.

    The Bad: Cynical attempt to be fun and modern. Also, earmarks.

  16. Talia says:

    Well, regardless how you feel about earmarks in general, would you not agree that this level of transparency is a very good thing? Perhaps it addresses your concerns about bribery?

  17. mn_camera says:

    …NY and California would have so much overwhelming power in this country that it would make Mississippi virtually subservient to their desires because they can raise far more money from their populations then MS.

    You say that like it would be a bad thing.

    As it stands, MS receives about $1.50 for every dollar they pay in taxes.

    Yes indeed – the rabid “anti-taxers” found in the heavily Republican South are also, in real terms, the biggest welfare cases.

  18. cousin8 says:

    What makes you think local and state officials are any less subject to “influence” than federal ones? Propinquity is pretty evenly distributed across the human race, after all. And the higher the profile, the brighter the spotlight. I worry more about the looped legislator, or the local selectman who doesn’t want to embarrass his brother-in-law.

    One result of video funding requests would be to let everyone see what kinds of nonsense (and sense) officials have to sort through, and how hard it can be to distinguish hunger relief from excess pork.

  19. KBert says:

    How ’bout we forward the link to each of our reps, urging them to follow suit?
    Think of the implications…
    Just think of it!

Leave a Reply