Business, Finance & Economics

Washington Post report finds that members of Congress steer earmarks close to home


The US Congress building seen during a sunny November afternoon in Washington, DC, November 06, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)


Mladen Antonov

Members of Congress have directed over $300 million in earmarks and other spending provisions to public projects that are next to or near their own properties, a Washington Post investigation released on Tuesday has found.

Nancy Pelosi is among 33 lawmakers who have funneled spending into projects in close proximity to commercial and residential real estate owned by the Congress members or their families.

Among their discoveries, the Post found that a senator from Alabama directed more than $100 million in federal earmarks to renovate downtown Tuscaloosa near his own commercial office building. A congressman from Georgia also secured $6.3 million in taxpayer funds to improve a beach just 900 feet from his vacation home, according to the Post.

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Under the ethics rules Congress has written for itself, this is both legal and can remain undisclosed, the Post reported. 

The Washington Post analyzed public records on the holdings of all 535 Congress members, and then cross-referenced them with earmarks they had sought for pet projects. The report is part of the paper's Capitol Assets series, which closely examines the finances of the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the US Senate.

Despite only making up a fraction of the US federal budget, the Post reported, earmarks have long been controversial. Though the spending uncovered by the Post is small in the scheme of the overall Congress, the lawmakers' behavior uncovers a larger issue, "at a time when confidence in Capitol Hill is at an all-time low," the Post stated. 

Lawmakers have acknowledged the public’s growing concern that they are using their positions of power to enrich themselves: last week, the Senate passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which requires that lawmakers disclose their houses' mortgages, according to the Post. The law also requires government officials to disclose securities trades of more than $1,000 every 30 days.

The Senate is set to vote on that legislation on Thursday. 

According to the Post, however, the Senate knocked down an amendment that would have permanently outlawed earmarks. 

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