Back in 2009, conservative commentators were quick to cry 'Pork!' as the House and Senate debated the $800 billion stimulus bill known as ARRA - the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. A year later the Cato Institute argued that the funding was targeted at counties that strongly supported Obama in 2008, claiming that "the counties that did the most to put Obama in the White House received a taxpayer-funded thank you in return."
But a new study released today at the Brookings Panel on Economic Activity finds no evidence that political influence or graft played a role in how stimulus dollars flowed to congressional districts. The paper, by economists at Columbia University, UMass-Amherst, and the University of Maryland, concludes that "for the most part, politicians did not exploit their individual positions of power within the Congress to grab funds."
The authors did find a lot of variation in the amount of funds sent to each district. Districts including all or part of a state capital received the lions' share of funding, primarily because much of the money was sent directly to state governments for disbursement across the state. But even when excluding state capitals, per-capita district spending ranged from $7 in Anthony Weiner's (D-N.Y.) district to $3,750 in Doc Hastings' (R-Wash.) district.
Use the map or search below to see how funds were allocated in your congressional district. Keep in mind that the stimulus was passed during the 111th Congress, and that many district boundaries have changed since 2009 as a result of redistricting.
While the study does find that Democratic-held districts received roughly $95 more per capita than Republican ones, when controlling for rates of employment and poverty the difference shrunk to a not-statistically significant $19. The authors also ran comparisons between swing and safe districts, long-serving and newer members, and members in leadership vs. non-leadership roles. In all of the above cases, there was no meaningful difference in the amount of stimulus funds disbursed.
On the other hand, the authors found that Congress didn't do a fantastic job of targeting funds to the areas that needed it the most - money didn't flow to districts with high unemployment. The availability of "shovel-ready" projects didn't play a significant role either.
Overall, the study paints a mixed picture of the effectiveness of the stimulus bill. It showed great strides in transparency and accountability since the New Deal era, when higher dollar amounts were sent to pro-Roosevelt areas. But it was also less effective at sending money to high-unemployment districts than the New Deal was. This suggests something of a tradeoff between transparency and the ability to allocate funds effectively.