Washington Post Releases Detailed Report on Congressional Earmarks

The Washington Post’s Tuesday editions carry this comprehensive report on Congressional earmarks and it will report that Congressionla Representatives steered earmarks towards projects within two miles of personal property they own. The report hits both parties hard. Of the 33 members of Congress who were tracked by the Post, 22 were Republicans.

From the story:  “Thirty-three members of Congress have steered more than $300 million in earmarks and other spending provisions to dozens of public projects that are next to or within about two miles of the lawmakers’ own property, according to a Washington Post investigation.

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

The Post analyzed public records on the holdings of all 535 members and compared them with earmarks members had sought for pet projects, most of them since 2008. The process uncovered appropriations for work in close proximity to commercial and residential real estate owned by the lawmakers or their family members. The review also found 16 lawmakers who sent tax dollars to companies, colleges or community programs where their spouses, children or parents work as salaried employees or serve on boards.  

In Southern California, the report dings five Congressional representatives: Republicans Darrell Issa, Gary Miller, Jerry Lewis and Ken Calvert; and Democrat Linda Sanchez.

From the story:

Rep. Ken Calvert (R – Calif.)

Earmark near personal property: $1.2 million –View this earmark on a map

From 2004 to 2009, Calvert helped secure $1.2 million for the Corona Transit Center. The project is near seven of Calvert’s rental properties. The House Ethics Committee determined the project would not have a “direct and foreseeable effect” on Calvert’s real estate. “The request did not constitute a conflict of interest,” Calvert said.

Calvert’s statement:

“There was nothing groundbreaking about the Ethics Committee decision which stated that the Corona Transit Center project did not provide any direct or unique benefits to the properties in question and the request did not constitute a conflict of interest,” said Rep. Calvert. “The request originated from the Riverside Transit Agency, I then sought the opinion of the Democratically chaired Ethics Committee, they cleared the request and the project was able to be completed. The Corona Transit Center provides vital public transportation alternatives to the 91 freeway which is a nationally significant route that provides goods movement from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach into the interior United States.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R – Calif.)

Earmark near personal property: $815,000

Issa secured $815,000 in earmarks between 2007 and 2009 to widen a road less than a mile from a medical building in Vista, Calif., that Issa purchased for $16.6 million in 2008. Issa sold the property on Jan. 19 for $15 million. These earmarks were first reported in March by the Center for American Progress and in August by the New York Times. “Rep. Issa’s request for the widening project was made on behalf of local leaders and predated his purchase of the medical center building,” a spokesman said.”

Issa’s statement: “Local leaders in San Diego County had planned this project even before Rep. Issa first took office in 2001,” Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said. “While the project has still not been built, Rep. Issa’s request for the widening project was made on behalf of local leaders and predated his purchase of the medical center building.” The earmarks were requested in 2007 and 2008 and approved in 2007 and 2009, records show.”

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R – Calif.)

Earmark near personal property: $2.7 million

Lewis helped secure $2.7 million from 2004 to 2008 to redevelop the historic Barracks Row, which is four blocks from Lewis’s D.C. home. The money will be used to improve the Eastern Market Metro stop and two parks. The earmarks were reported by media outlets. A Lewis spokesman said the congressman requested the money on behalf of D.C. officials, adding, “He did not purchase his home as an investment property, and gave no consideration at all to whether this project would improve his property value.”

Statement from Lewis:  “Since the District of Columbia has no representative in Congress, city and business officials approached Congressman Lewis directly in his role on the Appropriations Committee for help in improving the historic Barracks Row business district. Congressman Lewis agreed to support the plan as a means to provide a safe and pleasant environment for thousands who attend the Marine Corps evening parade each week, and for the tens of thousands of people who live in the surrounding Capitol Hill neighborhoods,” said Lewis spokesman Jim Specht. “He did not purchase his home as an investment property, and gave no consideration at all to whether this project would improve his property value.”

 
 

Rep. Gary G. Miller (R – Calif.)

 Earmark near personal property: $1.3 million

Miller secured $1.28 million in earmarks in 2005 to help repave, re-landscape and install new drains along Grand Avenue in Diamond Bar, Calif. The project, previously reported by The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, upgraded an access road for a residential and retail development that he co-owned with a campaign donor. Miller sold the property months after securing the earmark. “At no time did Congressman Miller use his position to promote or enhance his personal business partnerships,” Miller’s spokeswoman said.

Miller’s statement: “At no time did Congressman Miller use his position to promote or enhance his personal business partnerships. Grand Avenue is a critical roadway that runs through both Los Angeles and San Bernardino County, causing it to become an alternate route for commuters trying to avoid the 57/60 and 71 freeways. The City of Diamond Bar had been left with the fiscal burden of rehabilitating the road, which has received more traffic than it was ever intended to endure,” Miller spokeswoman, Megan McCormack said in a prepared statement. McCormack said the rehabilitation project started a half‐mile from the entry to Miller’s property. “Congressman Miller never requested federal funding for improvements to the portion of Grand Avenue that were made in front of the development in question,” she said. “These funds were secured through state and local transportation funds, as well as from developer fees imposed by the City. The funding the Congressman secured on behalf of the City was used for phases II and III of the project, which extended along Grand Avenue from 1100 feet east of Golden Springs Drive to the easterly city and county limit over half a mile away from the development. It should also be noted that the Congressman’ interest in the development ended prior to the commencement of Phase II, and later Phase III, of the rehabilitation project.”

Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (D – Calif.)

Earmark near personal property: $475,000

In 2009, Sánchez secured $475,000 to improve seven traffic signals. One was within a mile of her Lakewood home and three were within a half-mile of her district office. “The city of Lakewood requested these earmarks. They were the city of Lakewood’s priorities because the signals were old and deteriorating,” a Sánchez spokesman said. “The requests were made to go towards safety improvements that the city asked her to pursue.”

Sanchez offered no extended response to the story.

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It’s important to note while the general public might be outraged at the notion of Congressional earmarks as wasteful spending, and some certainly are, earmarks only make up $16 to $18 billion on a federal budget in the trillions.  It’s a drop in the bucket of which both parties  participate. 

Passing on federal earmarks just means passing the buck to state and local governments.  For example, the federal government should be paying to dredge Newport Harbor.  But because Rep. John Campbell won’t ask for a dime, a vital cog in the OC economy is relying on donations from those who use the Harbor most according to a story in the Daily Pilot.