Two lawmakers skirt earmark disclosure rule, says watchdog

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A new earmarks guessing game has emerged as some lawmakers thwart the intent of House disclosure rules by keeping the public in the dark about the specific earmarks those lawmakers requested of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, according to a spending watchdog group.

At least two Democratic members of Congress have posted on their websites over 300 earmarks sought by companies, individuals, non-profit groups, and universities, rather than identifying the specific earmarks each member is supporting.

“It’s a cynical twist on the rule,” said Steve Ellis, vice president at the non-profit Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks earmarks.

House Appropriations Committee rules only require that members of the House report the earmarks for pet projects they submit to the committee. By posting the entire wish-list of earmark requests submitted by their constituents and others, Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan are violating the spirit of the new disclosure rules, Ellis says.

Rep. Carolyn Cheeks KilpatrickRep. Marcia FudgeNeither Fudge or Kilpatrick indicate on their congressional websites which earmarks they support and want approved by the House Appropriations Committee.

Fudge, like Kilpatrick, who was written about here about last week, “refuses to disclose which earmarks she actually requested. Instead she lists everything that was asked of her and lets people guess as to what she might have sought,” said Ellis.

When asked for comment, Fudge’s spokeswoman pointed the Center to a statement made to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, in which Fudge said her actions complied with House rules. All earmark requests were listed on the website to show "constituents the full range of appropriations requests received so they know the true depth of community need and the complexity of arriving at a funding decision," according to Fudge’s statement to the newspaper.

Fudge is not a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, but Kilpatrick is.

“What makes Rep. Kilpatrick’s lack of transparency more surprising is that she is essentially flouting the rules established by the Chair of the Committee on which she sits,” said Ellis. Kilpatrick is the junior member of the House Appropriations Committee whose chairman is Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.

Kilpatrick said in a comment to the Center, “I have not broken any rules related to posting appropriations requests on my Web site. The policy of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee allows Members to list all requests received.”

In March, the House Appropriations Committee banned lawmakers from inserting earmarks that go to for-profit companies. The Democrats’ dramatic action was intended to stop members from steering federal money for no-bid contracts to companies and their executives who often make large campaign contributions. Earmarks accounted for nearly $16 billion in federal spending in the current fiscal year.

Earmark requests approved by the Appropriations Committee will be made known once the legislation containing the earmarks is reported out of the relevant subcommittee.

Kilpatrick’s website identifies over two dozen requests from entities designated as for-profits, though Kilpatrick said these requests were not sent to the Appropriations Committee. Fudge’s website does not identify if the requestors are non-profits or for-profits.

UPDATE — 4/28/10: The quote attributed to Rep. Fudge to The Cleveland Plain Dealer was actually made by Belinda Prinz, Fudge’s Communications Director. All of the requestors are non-profits, said Aketa Simmons, Fudge's press secretary, in a comment to the Center after this piece was originally published.

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