May 11, 2010

New Bipartisan Attempt At Earmark Reform

By CREW Staff

Last year, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced S. 162, the Fiscal Discipline, Earmark Reform, and Accountability Act, which would provide modest but tangible reforms of the earmarking process. Unfortunately, it garnered little traction and the bill remains mired in Committee.

Well today, new bipartisan legislation is being introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK.), Sen. Feingold (D-WI.), Sen. McCain (R-AZ.), and Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY.) that would require the creation of a searchable database of all congressional earmark requests. According to the Executive Summary, the Earmark Transparency Act of 2010 would:

Create a user-friendly, online database - it would allow citizens to sort, search and download earmark data;

Provide details on projects that are not currently available - it would include all relevant information, including the amount of initial request, amount approved by the committee, amount approved in final legislation, sponsor name, sponsor state or district, project name, and other relevant information;

Allow the public to see what Congress sees - the bill would require the website to include the earmark request letter written by a member of Congress and any documents supporting the request that is sent to a congressional committee; and

Make information available quicker - it would, consistent with the President's speech, require all requested earmarks that are approved to be made public before a vote.

CREW applauds this latest effort at earmark reform and will be actively urging passage of this bill. But earmark reform should go further to require, at a minimum, all recipients of earmarks, as well as the lobbyists they employ, to disclose any campaign contributions made to members of Congress from whom they sought such earmarks. Ideally, Congress should amend the FEC Act to prohibit any campaign committee from accepting contributions from any entity for which the candidate sought a congressional earmark. In the House, Rep. Hodes has legislation that would do just that.

Transparency is the hallmark of democracy. Everyone knows the current system is broken. With elections around the corner, this would be a welcome effort that would not only provide substantive reform, but inch closer at repairing Congress' negative approval ratings.

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