Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Banning Corporate Earmarks: Too Broad?

In March 2010, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee banned earmarks to for-profit companies. Had such a ban been in place in 2009, it would have meant the elimination of about 1,000 awards worth a total of about $1.7 billion. Many of those earmarks went to military contractors for projects in lawmakers’ home districts. The committee seemingly meant to end a practice that has steered billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to companies and set off corruption scandals. However, it is also possible that the vote was a “dog and pony show” not meant to result in any eventual law. Such a show would give the American public the illusion of Congressional effort to reduce the impact of business on the elected representatives.

Most likely as the House Committee anticipated, the U.S. Senate balked. The allure of earmarks is simply too great for a ban to have survived intact. The confluence of projects being in representatives’ respective districts and corporate campaign donors being reinforced is too hard for reform-minded legislators to crack. According to the Office of Congressional Ethics, there is a “widespread perception” among the private-sector recipients of earmarks that giving political contributions to lawmakers helps secure appropriations.

I contend that banning earmarks misses the mark in thwarting the corruption that naturally stems from corporate political campaign donors being able to receive Congressional largess. The root of the problem is a conflict of interest wherein campaign contributors are allowed to benefit financially from government appropriations. To ban all projects in a district does not target this conflict of interest. It would be interesting to see whether corporations would contribute to political campaigns if there could be no financial benefit from the public purse from the legislative body..


 Eric Lichtblau, “Leaders in House Block Earmarks to Corporations,” The New York Times, March 10, 2010.