The Americans for Prosperity Foundation has driven its Ending Earmarks Express recreational vehicle more than 10,000 miles since April, crusading against wasteful federal spending on pork-barrel earmarks, those questionable local pet projects that benefit well-connected insiders.
By the end of September, the group had visited the sites of 50 pork-barrel earmarks in 37 states in every part of the country, from Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” to the possible future home of the world’s largest Teapot Museum, in Sparta, North Carolina.
“Some of the projects we’ve visited may have some value to a local community, but with an $8 trillion national debt, we need to start having a debate about whether the federal government can and should fund them,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Foundation.
“The key to ending pork-barrel politics is to have local grassroots taxpayers tell their elected officials to stop wasting their money on these questionable pet projects, and that’s what we’re accomplishing with the Ending Earmarks Express,” Phillips explained.
The Ending Earmarks Express team hasn’t always been warmly received when they have rolled into towns to question federal funding for local projects.
The group’s “Bridge to Nowhere” news conference in Ketchikan, Alaska was crashed by the town’s pro-bridge mayor and chamber of commerce representatives.
By contrast, when the group arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona after driving across the desert from Albuquerque on a 105-degree day in July, they were kindly greeted with cold sodas by the staff at the Mountain Line bus headquarters, site of $7.4 million in pork-barrel earmarks.
Along the way, the AFP Foundation has staged taxpayer rallies and news conferences to help build and organize grassroots support for earmark-reform efforts on Capitol Hill.
Most of the pork-barrel earmarks the group has spotlighted were secretly inserted into appropriations bills late in the process, with little or no public debate, behind the closed doors of a conference committee. Others were stuck into bills anonymously by members of Congress who apparently didn’t want their names attached to such questionable projects.
Waiting for Congress
While the Express has been greeted cordially at most stops, it’s not clear what kind of reception the group’s call for real and comprehensive earmark reform will receive on Capitol Hill.
The U.S. House of Representatives on September 14 approved a package of changes to its internal rules that would make it harder to add earmarks anonymously behind the closed doors of a conference committee. The changes would force members of Congress to attach their names to many earmarks.
However, the rules changes included several loopholes, and at press time the Senate had not moved to change its own internal rules regarding earmarks.
In addition, if partisan control of the House or Senate changes after November’s elections, it’s likely the new earmark rules could fall by the wayside.
“While there is certainly more that needs to be done, these reforms would provide taxpayers, bloggers, and grassroots organizations with more transparency so they can work together to fight waste, fraud, and abuse,” Phillips said. “In the past year, activists have been able to block pork-barrel earmarks for ‘Bridges to Nowhere’ in Alaska, a ‘Railroad to Nowhere’ in Mississippi, and other boondoggles. With these reforms, they’re going to be able to fight even more wasteful projects like these in the future.”
Ed Frank ([email protected]) is the Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s vice president for public affairs.