I’m writing a column on them for tomorrow. This is a pretty good analysis by Norm Ornstein (at a Center for American Progress event, I hate to say) of how they have become an instrument of governance for the GOP House majority:
Scott Lilly [of CAP] has written some superb studies of what’s happened with earmarking, which has increased tenfold or more, moving into the appropriations process in the House where it didn’t exist before. Extended in the transportation bill, in areas of education, defense and otherwise. Done by a leadership which wanted first to protect its members electorally so that they could have many more specific things that they could point to that they’d done; done so that when they got to these extended votes on the floor to secure those final few Republican votes they could use earmarks as carrots or sticks. The vote on the transportation bill was delayed for one extra day so that we could get the vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and in the process of wheeling and dealing members were told that earmarks for their districts would be taken out if they didn’t vote the right way, and to secure a few votes a few were added in.
When you create a process where every individual member of Congress has more ability to direct millions, tens of millions, or hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, contracts, or otherwise, you create a climate where a Randy Duke Cunningham will emerge and probably others because you are going to have lots of interests out there saying, geez, if I can give a million or so to one individual, I might get $100 million, $200 million, or $300-million contract. That is a pretty good ratio. And I would encourage any regional reporters listening to this to begin to explore real estate transactions in your own districts to see if we have more widespread examples.