House Plays Peekaboo In Earmark Disclosure

Wednesday, 08 Apr 2009 09:07 PM

By David A. Patten

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Seventy-one members of the House of Representatives failed to meet the deadline for online disclosure of their earmark requests in the 2010 budget, according to the government watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS).

Many other earmark disclosures were disclosed in arcane locations on congressional Web sites where they would be difficult for taxpayers to find.

“The only thing consistent among the various Web sites is inconsistency,” says Steve Ellis of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Some lawmakers put a link to the disclosures right on the home page, while others bury their requests under an electronic rock, forcing constituents to click through several pages under legislation, district initiatives, issues, or some other general category.”

Earmark disclosure is part of a new policy touted by House leaders designed to reduce the harsh glare of public criticism that earmarks have recently received. The rules require all earmarks to be disclosed by posting the details on members’ Web sites.

Initially, representatives were required by the new ethics legislation – which has been highly touted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama as a major step toward earmark transparency – to post details on all earmarks requested by last Friday. That deadline was later extended by one day.

TCS reported that 71 representatives failed to comply with the new rules on earmark disclosure. Their earmark requests either had not been posted, or could not be found on their Web sites.

Other members of congress appeared to follow the strict requirements on earmark disclosure, while stashing the earmark information away in rarely used corners of their Web sites.

TheHill.com reports that several members, including Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., placed their earmark requests in news releases on their sites, rather than providing a home page link to easily access the information.

On other sites, constituents looking for earmark information had to search through unlikely categories labeled “Issues” and “Legislation.”

It took three or more clicks to bring up earmark data on some Web sites.

TheHill.com took Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, to task Tuesday for posting his earmark requests under his site’s “Issues” tab, below 16 other issues a user would have to scroll through.

By Tuesday afternoon, LaTourette’s staff had moved his earmark requests up to the top of the list under the title: “FY10 Appropriations Requests.”

Aside from defense-related earmarks, LaTourette’s requests appeared to be rather modest, including: $200,000 for Ohio State’s Center for Farmland Policy Innovation, which communities to assist small farmers; $500,000 for a ferry service from Ashtabula to Canada; and $342,500 for upgrades to a 4,300-foot, 12-foot-wide walking and biking trail in Sagamore Hills Township.

Taxpayers for Common Sense has criticized the earmark disclosure rules for not requiring all earmarks to be reported on a single, consolidated Web site that taxpayers and the media could access.

Another issue, the group says, is that disclosures have no standard format. They come in many different forms and on different areas of the Web sites – suggesting some members of Congress wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if their disclosures went largely unnoticed.

One indication of just how unpopular earmarks have become: Most sites avoid the term “earmark” altogether, preferring instead to refer to them as appropriations requests.

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