Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), who previously secured more than $2 million in earmarks for a “Corrosion Engineering Education Initiative” at the University of Akron, added $33 million to the authorization bill this year for “Corrosion Protection Projects.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) added $5 million for “night vision advanced technology.” He secured a $2.4 million earmark in 2010 for the same technology, to be developed by a company founded by his uncle, who sold the company in the 1990s.
The defense authorization bill was passed by the House, but Sutton’s and Hunter’s efforts were shot down, along with the other amendments, when the issue got to the Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee.
Subcommittee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) honored the moratorium and refused to allow any special provisions. But earmark critics such as McCaskill say the episode highlights how the moratorium rises and falls with the whim of each chairman.
“One way you can look at it is you can say people are trying to make an end run around the rules any way they can,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. “But on the flip side, you can say that they did get slapped down. Maybe it came out of indignation. ‘If I can’t play the earmarks game, you shouldn’t be able to either.’ But the rules held.”
Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said the lawmaker does not consider his amendment to be an earmark because the money would have been awarded based on merit. He said Hunter is hopeful that the funding will come through in the next few weeks when the House and the Senate meet in conference to hammer out a final version of the defense authorization bill. “Mr. Hunter made the request because he feels very strongly about the technology,” Kasper said.
Sutton declined to comment.
At the time, McCaskill was the only lawmaker to publicly challenge the amendments, saying they made a “charade” out of the moratorium. In a May 26 letter to McKeon, she wrote that the “new earmarking procedure you have instituted not only circumvents the current moratorium, but is actually less transparent than the earmarking process that was in place prior to the moratorium.”
McKeon has repeatedly denied that the amendments were earmarks, saying the money would have been granted based on merit.
After 2008, lawmakers had to disclose when they were seeking money for pet projects in their districts, providing a description of the project and the dollar amount. They also had to file paperwork certifying that neither they nor their spouses would benefit financially from the earmark.
McCaskill said the legislation that she and Toomey are proposing would prohibit earmarks and set up a process for challenging such spending.
Under the bill’s provisions, any lawmaker would be allowed to contest something that appears to be an earmark. The member advocating for the spending would have to publicly justify it and receive approval from two-thirds of the full Senate.
Staff writer David S. Fallis contributed to this report.