December 13, 2005
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Seventh in a
Some words get a bad reputation they don't
deserve. If you call someone an "ideologue," he'll probably be
insulted. But if the idea is good, where's the shame?
Like most conservatives, I'm an ideologue, devoted to the idea that
Washington should spend less, tax less and be less involved in our
lives. But the opposite is happening. Washington is spending more
and more, and that spending is being prodded by a group known as "K
Street conservatives," named for the Washington street many
lobbyists call home.
Lobbyists are spending our tax money, and they're becoming ever
more brazen about it. Not long ago, a local newspaper reported that
a K Street lawyer had visited Culpepper County, Virginia. The
government there planned to build a $3.5 million sports complex
with money it would borrow on the bond market.
This lawyer had a "better" idea. He said he could get Congress to
provide funding with an earmark, the process through which
lawmakers set aside money in a spending bill to fund a specific
pork barrel project.
Culpepper would get its $3.5 million from Uncle Sam, and all it
would cost the county was the lawyer's fee, some $90,000 over 18
What a deal. Instead of borrowing money at market rates, the county
would be getting it at 2.6 cents on the dollar. Taxpayers there
would save and still get their sports complex. It's the rest of us
who'd end up paying the bills.
Notice that in this case, it wasn't even a lawmaker pushing for a
specific project at the request of local officials. A lawyer simply
went client hunting, decided he could make money with this project,
and knew he could always find a congressman or senator to back the
The Army Corps of Engineers provides an even more dangerous example
of K Street conservatism. Congress and the White House earmark
almost 85 percent of the money the Corps spends. Unfortunately,
that means lower-priority projects sometimes get funded before
Consider Louisiana, where the Corps spent some $1.9 billion between
2000 and 2005. A mere $72.2 million of that went to protecting
levees in 2005. Meanwhile, $748 million was spent on building a new
lock on an underutilized canal.
Corps experts knew that project was a waste of money, but went
ahead with it after a barrage of "Herculean" lobbying (as a port
memo put it). Hurricane Katrina showed the danger of building by
This trend has gotten so out of hand that some firms even brag
about their ability to bring home the bacon. The lobbying form
Marlowe & Co. took in more than $700,000 in 2003 from local
communities that wanted to win congressional earmarks for beach
replenishment. In return, the firm says it has won more that $100
million in beach projects. Marlowe's Web site has a 13-page list of
the 170 beach earmarks it has secured for clients from coast to
The market for selling earmarks to communities will probably grow
-- as the medieval sale of indulgences did -- until Americans get
fed up and put an end to it. Doing so wouldn't be especially
difficult. Lawmakers simply need to eliminate earmarks (there were
more than 6,300 in the most recent highway bill) and this form of K
Street conservatism will disappear.
In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge said, "The business of
America is business." Ever since, most people have assumed that
corporations are conservative. But the truth is that businesses
have a profit motive, not an ideology.
Thus, the danger of K Street conservatism isn't that it's an
ideology. It's that its practitioners want to use the government to
turn a profit, and this fuels Washington's ever-increasing appetite
Next week, we'll wrap up this series with a look at practical
solutions to Washington's overspending.
Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation
(heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research
First Appeared in Investor's Business Daily
Some words get a bad reputation they don't deserve. If you call someone an "ideologue," he'll probably be insulted. But if the idea is good, where's the shame?
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
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