A new Washington Post investigation finds that many congressional pet projects – commonly known as earmarks – are in close proximity to property owned by the officeholders who secured those funds. Other earmarks benefitted companies or institutions where their family members were employed. Polls show that Americans hold overwhelmingly negative views of earmarks and pork barrel spending in general, but also that they want their own representative to fight to bring congressional dollars back their district.
Almost eight in 10 Americans in a December 2010 CNN/ORC poll said it’s unacceptable for members of Congress to use earmarks for spending projects in their home states and districts. Majorities of all political backgrounds agreed, though Republicans and conservatives were most strongly opposed.
But pork isn’t seen nearly as negatively in one’s own district. An October 2010 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll (pdf) found that by 57 to 39 percent more Americans want their representative in Congress to fight for spending in their district than for general cuts in government spending. That marked a shift from 1994, when an ABC News poll showed more people wanted their representative to fight for cuts than spending back home.
Bringing home the bacon is also seen by many as a reason to vote someone into office. A 2010 Pew Research/National Journal poll found that 53 percent were “more likely” to support a candidate who has a record of bringing government projects and money to their district. Just 11 percent said it would make them less likely, while 32 percent said it made no difference.
In reactions to The Post’s investigation, congressional officeholders echoed the idea that their earmarks were important and beneficial to their district overall, not just their own interests. If voters see particular earmarks as a boon to their district, they may give their representative the benefit of the doubt. If not, there’s plenty of scorn to go around.