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What a Flake

- February 5, 2008

Here’s a nifty website for any of you with an appetite for (congressional) pork. Make it Jeff Flake! is devoted to lobbying House Republican leaders to name Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) to a vacancy on the House Appropriations Committee. Yes, Flake is the persistent critic of earmarking and author of many failed efforts to curb congressional earmarking. And yes, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are plum prizes for loyal partisans eager to steer funds to their own districts and states and to their party colleagues seeking to shore up their electoral prospects. Even in an era of deeply polarized legislative parties, earmarking is one of the few congressional pursuits played across party lines. (Despite the president’s castigation of a Democratic Congress for its appetite for pork, even Republicans enjoy a little pig roast. Remember the “Bridge to Nowhere”?)

Will Flake and his supporters succeed? Unlikely. As studies of committee assignment politics have shown– from Lawrence, Maltzman, and Wahlbeck’s study of Speaker Joe Cannon’s assignments at the turn of the 20th century to Frisch and Kelly’s book on contemporary assignment politics– party leaders take a heightened interest in who sits on the chamber’s most prestigious committees. Seats on the Appropriations Committee are prizes to be awarded to loyal team players, not to vocal critics of the leadership like Rep. Flake.

Even without Flake on the HAC, Congress did take tentative steps in 2007 to curb its appetite, by some estimates cutting in half the amount of money spent on earmarks. Still, Congress’s earmark reforms have primarily required greater and more precise disclosure of earmarks and their sponsors. There are now several websites (here and here) that feature user-friendly earmark databases. Thanks to Google Earth, you can even map the earmarks. Here are the earmarks for the defense appropriations bill as originally passed by the House last year:

defenseearmarks.jpg

If the “Law of Available Data” holds true, expect to see many more studies of the politics of earmarking in the near future.

Hat tip to Mark Spindel for the earmark map.