WASHINGTON - September 13 - Public Citizen today sent a letter of protest to the Hill condemning a new, woefully inadequate proposal by House Republican leaders to rein in earmark abuse. The proposal, spearheaded by Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), merely calls for tacking the name of lawmakers onto each earmark. It does not, but should, allow any member to demand a floor vote on a secret earmark added to a bill by a manager’s amendment or in conference committee.
“In what has become a very disappointing repeat performance, House Republican leaders once again talk big on reform, but in the end act small with a do-little proposal to address earmark abuse,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.
The earmark proposal is no replacement for a real lobbying and ethics reform package. The current ethics and lobbying proposals were severely watered down as they moved through congressional committees and floor votes. What began in January as sweeping, bold legislative proposals to clean up Washington became a whimper, resulting in simplistic and inadequate disclosure bills (H.R. 4975 and S. 2349). Even these embarrassingly weak bills have now perished in conference committee.
“It is tragic that Congress is failing to address in any meaningful way the corruption sweeping Capitol Hill in recent years,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “One member of Congress has already gone to prison; several others are under criminal investigation. Turning a blind eye to lobbying abuses on the Hill is a trademark of this Congress.”
Earmark reform – though no solution to the lobbying and ethics scandals wreaking havoc upon public confidence in government – is long overdue in its own right. Over the past 10 years, earmarks increased by 285 percent in number and 60 percent in cost to taxpayers. Many of these earmarks are for costly boondoggles promoted by lobbyists on behalf of special interest groups or campaign contributors seeking to further pet projects.
In the letter, Public Citizen told lawmakers that to rein in this pork and the abuse of the public trust, meaningful earmark reform must:
● Require all earmarks to be written into the bills, rather than surreptitiously written into committee reports, thus permitting legislative debate and a vote on each one.
● Identify the lawmaker who sponsored each earmark, along with a brief description of it.
● Subject any secret earmarks added by a manager’s amendment or in conference committee and not voted upon earlier to a demand for a floor vote requiring a majority vote to retain it.
“Serious earmark reform is indeed needed on Capitol Hill, but this isn’t serious reform,” said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen. “Even a robust plan for earmark reform would be no substitute for new, meaningful restrictions on the gravest sources of dishonesty on the Hill – the potentially corrupting nexus connecting lobbyists, campaign money and lawmakers. Substantial lobbying reform, combined with the public funding of elections, is the real solution to these assaults on democracy.”
To view the letter, click here.