Earmarks set aside for campaign donors, report finds

By T.W. Farnam
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010; 1:56 PM

House and Senate lawmakers have received nearly $2 million in campaign contributions this election cycle from organizations for which they had sponsored earmarks, according to a new report by two nonpartisan watchdogs.

Over half of the members of the House and Senate accepted money for the November elections from recipients of their earmarks, according to the report, released Thursday by the Center for Responsive Politics and Taxpayers for Common Sense. Thirteen senators and nine House members received more than $20,000 from companies and organizations that were beneficiaries of their earmarks.

"In too many cases campaign contributors are able to donate thousands of dollars and get millions of dollars back in earmarks," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the taxpayers' group. "This isn't altruism that is driving their behavior."

In total, lawmakers spent $15.9 billion on earmarks in the current fiscal year, only a fraction of which went to campaign contributors, according to the group. That figure is less than the $19.9 billion spent in fiscal 2009.

Earmarks, which direct spending to specific recipients, have become a political issue as the federal deficit has ballooned. Critics charge that the spending is directed to lawmakers' pet projects, bypassing competitive bidding and other fairness safeguards. Democratic leaders said this year that they will allow earmarks only for nonprofit organizations. Republican leaders said they would seek to ban all earmarks.

The report also found $269 million in lobbying last year by earmark recipients, though that figure includes amounts spent on other issues as well. "Even with all of the scrutiny that we've seen in the last couple of years, earmarks are still a big business," Ellis said.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was the top recipient of money overall with $140,700 in contributions from beneficiaries of his earmarks.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) received $70,000 from earmark recipients, the most of any House lawmaker. Moran sits on the House defense appropriations subcommittee and received most of that money from defense interests.

Spokesmen for Moran and Inouye did not immediately return a request for comment.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company