Report on earmarks is a treasure trove of information

A few days ago, Des Moines Register reporter Jane Norman wrote a story about earmarks Iowa’s members of Congress obtained for projects in 2007. The article was based on the 2008 “Congressional Pig Book,” published by Citizens against Government Waste.

The Register notes:

Citizens Against Government Waste is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that takes aim at waste and fraud in government.

To qualify as pork, projects must meet one of seven criteria: a request by just one member of Congress; no specific authorization; no competitive award; no presidential request; a greatly increased budget amount compared with the previous year; serving only a local or special interest; or no congressional hearing.

Norman’s main point was that Iowa’s members of Congress obtained far more earmarks in 2007 than they had the previous year, totaling

$184.6 million in earmarks, or $61.79 in Iowa pork for every man, woman and child in the state.

It’s a major rebound for Iowa, which languished in 37th place in a similar study in 2006. That year, lawmakers obtained $72.2 million in earmarks, or $24.34 per Iowan.

(Note: Earlier this year, the group Taxpayers for Common Sense did its own analysis and came up with somewhat different numbers for 2007: the Iowa delegation was calculated to have obtained about “$152 million in earmarked money from Congress – or $51.10 for every man, woman and child in the state.”)

Norman noted that since Democrats took control of Congress in he 2006 elections, Senator Tom Harkin now chairs a “key appropriations subcommittee.” The “Congressional Pig Book” apparently singled him out for getting “$40 million for 44 projects in his own bill,” according to Norman.

I don’t know why the authors would single out Harkin, when their own book shows that Senator Chuck Grassley obtained more pork for Iowa in terms of total dollar value. Grassley collaborated with Harkin on a large number of earmarks for Iowa projects.

I also get a little tired of self-appointed taxpayer watchdogs expressing righteous indignation about this or that project that got a few hundred thousand dollars from the federal government. The Pig Book shows that the more than 11,000 earmarks in 2007 accounted for about $17.2 billion in federal spending.

Meanwhile, the U.S. spent several times that amount on the continuing war in Iraq in 2007, with little to show for it besides more American casualties.

That said, there’s no doubt that a lot of earmarks are wasteful appropriations for projects of limited benefit to the broader community. The Pig Book contains a ton of information about the earmarks each member of Congress has obtained. You can search all the Iowa earmarks from 2007 on this page of the Des Moines Register’s website, or search for earmarks by any member of Congress at the Citizens Against Government Waste site.

I used that search engine to find the total number of earmarks that each Iowa member of Congress obtained last year. The total dollar amount for each member comes from a table published in the Des Moines Register on April 3 (no link, because I could only find this table in the print version). Note that not every dollar earmarked by an Iowan ends up in Iowa, because some of these projects operate in many states.

Chuck Grassley (R), 155 earmarks, $321.4 million

Tom Harkin (D), 194 earmarks, $302.8 million

Tom Latham (R, IA-04), 63 earmarks, $67 million

Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02), 27 earmarks, $53.5 million

Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03), 27 earmarks, $33.1 million

Bruce Braley (D, IA-01), 26 earmarks, $27.5 million

Steve King (R, IA-05), 13 earmarks, $9.8 million

Why does Latham, a Republican, lead our House delegation in terms of earmarks? He is the longest-serving Iowan in the House (having been first elected in 1994) and serves on several subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee. Also, his district includes Iowa State University, and a lot of federal funding goes to major research universities.

The data for the Democrats surprised me. How did the freshman Dave Loebsack secure so much more than Leonard Boswell? At first I thought it must be because Loebsack’s district includes the University of Iowa, but only two of Loebsack’s 27 earmarks were for the university.

Looking down the list more carefully, I realized that the dollar amount credited to Loebsack is inflated because he was one of 13 House members to earmark $24 million for the Department of Education’s National Writing Project. Most of that money will not go to Iowa.

Even if we remove that one from Loebsack’s list, he is still left with 26 earmarks (almost as many as Boswell), totaling $29.5 million (almost as much as Boswell). Keep in mind that Loebsack is only halfway through his first term, while Boswell was elected to Congress in 1996.

Braley is not far behind, despite being a freshman as well.

It’s no surprise that King is at the bottom of the list. Not only is he a Republican in a Democratic-controlled chamber, his idea of constituent service seems to revolve around making outrageous statements. Oh, and also suing to prevent non-native English speakers from receiving voter information in other languages. He has no major universities in his district either.

If you dig around in the database and find anything particularly noteworthy, please put a comment in this thread.

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