March 18, 2002

March 18, 2002 | News Releases on Federal Budget

Study: Lobbyists Boast Big Role in Congressional Porkfest

WASHINGTON, Mar. 18, 2002-A tattoo-removal program in a California county. A $500,000 bike trail in North Dakota. An effort to fight not terrorists, but "goth culture" among youth in a Kansas City suburb.

These are just some of the 7,803 examples of congressional pork (totaling about $15 billion) in this year's federal budget, many of which are initiated not by Congress, but by lobbyists who openly boast of their ability to sell local officials such budget "earmarks," a new Heritage Foundation paper says. "These pork-barrel earmarks are bought and sold like cans of beans, bales of cotton or cords of wood, and the desire of the populace has very little to do with who gets what," writes Ronald Utt, a Heritage senior research fellow and the former privatization "czar" in the Reagan administration.

In fact, the practice is so common that many lobbying firms publicly advertise their success at securing federal funds, Utt writes. One lobbying firm notes on its Web site that shepherding federal-funding requests is a "high priority" for many clients. "More than half our firm's work is comprised of this activity, and our track record is strong," the site says.

Although many pork-barrel projects offer a regular "gold mine of humor," according to Utt-such as $2 million for a "Center on Obesity" at West Virginia University and $1 million for "theraputic horseback riding" in Apple Valley, Calif.-it also shows the "darker side of waste and abuse of financial privileges that result from congressional vanity." Here's how lobbyists usually get into the act of letting taxpayers pay for pork-barrel projects, according to Utt:

"A local business group or public official wants federal money for a highway or other large project that wouldn't pass muster if sent through normal channels. The official hires a Washington lobbyist to convince influential congressmen that the project is desperately needed in their districts. The lobbyists then go to work and the congressmen, in order to appear better-connected with the voters back home, often agree to support funding for the project."

Lawmakers such as Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, defend the practice, citing Congress' constitutional authority to determine spending. But Utt says the defense is an excuse for caving in to special interests.

"Notwithstanding lawmakers' efforts to cloak themselves in the power of great constitutional principle, this exercise is really all about electoral insecurity and the desire to buy friendship and public affection with the hard-earned dollars of American taxpayers," he says.

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