Putting the Pork in One Barrel

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, August 17, 2006

One legislator's "pork," of course, is another's vital public works project. But all are earmarks, those tax and spending directions added to money bills at the behest of anonymous lawmakers -- anonymous, that is, until the legislation is passed and they can boast of it to constituents.

A coalition of odd bedfellows is trying to bring more transparency to earmarking by encouraging citizens to get involved in tracking who is trying to get what money for which special interest. And all of this will be online and available to the public.

The coalition includes the Sunlight Foundation, Citizens Against Government Waste, Porkbusters.org, Human Events Online and the Washington Examiner newspaper. They created a single database of earmarks, but each organization is presenting the database on its own Web site and asking the public to participate in different ways. Generally, however, they are asking citizens to investigate the earmarks that grab their attention, then report back. They plan to share their information with each other.

The initial database includes the more than 1,800 earmarks in the 2007 appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

The Sunlight Foundation is asking folks to report back by blog and e-mail. The group's Web site ( http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/exposingearmarks ) connects with Google Maps, and plots the destination of most of the earmarks. For example, let your mouse wander over the dollar sign outside Sacramento, and up pops McClellan, Calif., and $500,000 for "a new interactive exhibit" for the Aerospace Museum of California Foundation Inc.

Zephyr Teachout , Sunlight's national director, said the foundation will vet any contributed information before including it in a report.

Teachout, who was director of online organizing for Howard Dean's presidential bid in 2004, said the project is attempting to make the earmark process more transparent and get citizens to take responsibility for demanding information on appropriations.

"We feel the public should get involved in appropriations when it matters -- before the legislation is passed," she said. Teachout noted that some money mandates "are wonderful earmarks," but said, "It's our money," and secrecy invites bad governing.

Opposing Predatory Lending

The Center for Community Self-Help, a Durham, N.C., community development financial institution, and its Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) have fought lending practices that hurt the people they've been trying to help build businesses and buy homes. In recent years, they've become involved in some lobbying for federal and state legislation to fight predatory lending, but now they believe that "advancing CRL's issues in Congress and nationwide is becoming increasingly important."

To that end, Self-Help has promoted Michael D. Calhoun from general counsel and lead lobbyist to president of CRL.

"Increasingly, industry is coming to Capitol Hill and the regulatory agencies, and [this requires] more voice for consumers," he said.

Although most of CRL's work involves research and education, Calhoun said the organization could not "close our eyes" to predatory lending practices, such as unduly high interest rates. He referred to the group's "reluctant participation" in lobbying.

Calhoun said language included in the Senate-passed defense authorization bill would cap interest rates on loans to military service personnel.

CRL has been pushing for more consumer protections in mortgages for the last couple of years. Calhoun said he is more optimistic about the legislation's prospects, most likely for next year, because of the recent decision by Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) not to seek reelection.

Ney, a senior member of the Financial Services Committee, has co-sponsored legislation supported by the housing industry but opposed by many community groups. The new lead on the legislation is being taken by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), also a senior committee member.

Here and There

Harold "Terry" McGraw III , chairman and chief executive of the McGraw-Hill Companies, is the new chairman of the Business Roundtable, succeeding Hank McKinnell , chairman of Pfizer.

Nathan Koble has signed on with the National Association of Manufacturers as director of Internet strategies, a new post. He'll be responsible for getting NAM's word out via the Internet and other media. Koble previously worked for Lockheed Martin on assignment at the National Institute of Justice.

Chris Stenrud , who ran the Democratic Communications Committee in the Senate for then-Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and later went to work for GMMB on policy communications and public relations, has opened a D.C. office for a San Francisco PR and public affairs shop, Allison & Partners . Also at the new office: Katrin Olson , a former communications aide at Environmental Defense and an energy reporter for Hart Publications. Clients include the Delta Air Lines Retirement Committee, whose interest is pension legislation.

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