A Modest Proposal to Provide Transparency and Accountability for Earmarks

The final Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bills included more than 8,000 earmarks, costing taxpayers nearly $15 billion.

Many of these earmarks were… controversial to say the least.

Earmarks Should Be Banned

Earmarks for special interests and local projects are not an appropriate use of Congress’s Article I power of the purse.

The powers delegated to the federal government are “few and defined,” with the Spending Clause of the Constitution only permitting the levying of taxes “to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” The phrase “common defense and general welfare” is of course in contrast to spending that would provide particular, parochial, narrow, or limited benefit.

Earmarks promote wasteful spending and spawn corruption. One of the most important reforms of the last 15 years was the earmark ban put in place in 2011. Bringing earmarks back in 2023 was a mistake. The earmark ban should be reinstated.

Earmark Reforms Needed

However, if the House and Senate are going to have earmarks, reforms to promote accountability and transparency are needed.

Earmarks in appropriations bills should be tied to certifications by the relevant Appropriations Cardinal (the Subcommittee Chair) that they personally have done oversight of each earmark recipient, as well a description from the Committee of each project’s evaluation if they decide to approve it for funding.

Certification by the Cardinal

Each Appropriations Cardinal should certify via a signed statement inserted in the Congressional Record and posted online that each earmark recipient in the bill does not:

  • Have entanglements with the Chinese Communist Party;
  • Employ or aid illegal aliens;
  • Provide abortions;
  • Provide gender transitions for minors;
  • Provide sexual content to minors;
  • Discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
  • Employ any diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officers or personnel, or have DEI or other race-based policies, trainings, or practices;
  • Teach, advocate, or directly support critical race theory, “racial justice”, “climate justice”, “algorithmic justice”, and cultural or economic Marxism; or
  • Engage in direct or grassroots lobbying, or employ lobbyists.

Transparency from the Appropriations Committee

The Appropriations Committee should disclose its evaluations of funded projects in the Committee Report or the Joint Explanatory Statement that accompanies a conference bill, including:

  • Information provided by the recipient or local sponsor;
  • Staff reports from site visits;
  • Staff reports from interviews of recipient or local sponsor;
  • Evaluation of duplication and overlap of the project with other federal spending or programs;
  • Evaluation of the potential federal funding for the project’s impact on federalism; and
  • Description of alternative funding options considered.

Is Accountability for Spending “Chaos”?

Requiring transparency into the oversight and evaluation work that most Americans would assume Congress does before spending billions of the taxpayers’ money seems like common sense.

Shockingly, the Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee recently described even reviewing spending projects as leading to “chaos.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), told Politico, “If we start to review everybody’s project, can you imagine what kind of chaos? If we go down that slippery slope, I would be the first one to say: End it.”

The American taxpayers say that if Congress isn’t responsible with spending our money, they should “end it.”

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