Sunlight on Congressional Earmarks Needed

Rep. Flake (R-AZ), in his Feb. 24 op-ed in the NY Times, called on Congress to break the conduit that links contributions to appropriations earmarks....

February 26, 2009

Rep. FlakeRep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), in his February 24th op-ed in the NY Times, called on Congress to break the conduit that links campaign contributions to appropriations earmarks.

Congressman Flake’s voice is one of laudable integrity. Not only has he turned a spotlight on the insidious facts of pay-to-play, but, by acknowledging in a Washington Post op-ed after the 2008 election that “the proliferation of earmarks is largely a product of the Gingrich-DeLay years,” as well as noting news reports concerning an investigation into earmarks by Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), he has issued a challenge to Congress as a whole. As Congressman Flake observes, neither party can claim to be untainted by the current phrasing of the House Ethics manual, which invites members who write earmarks to pretend that campaign contributions do not constitute a “financial interest.”

There is little doubt that campaign contributions are the “primary currency” on Capitol Hill. But now, as Congress turns to confront challenges of epic scale, no amount of taxpayer dollars can be spared for the purpose of luring contributors to campaign coffers.

Yesterday’s committee vote on Flake’s bill, which would require the ethics committee to produce a report examining the connections between earmarks and campaign cash, narrowly failed on a procedural vote after several committee members switched sides, according to coverage in The Hill. We hope that Rep. Flake continues to push the issue, as he has promised to do. More sunlight on the murky world of earmarks would be a welcome change.