Congressman Wu Earmark Flap Tip of Troubling Iceberg

Wu Earmark Flap Tip of Troubling Iceberg
By Jeff Kropf

The Seattle Times and the Portland Oregonian recently reported that U.S. Rep David Wu (D-OR) had arranged $3 million in taxpayer funds to purchase t-shirts from a Beaverton company for the Marine Corps. The shirts turned out to be prone to melting in high heat situations, which could have been dangerous or fatal to Marines who wore them. The shirts defect was known before Wu arranged the purchase.

To secure the no-bid contract for his constituent, Wu used a method known in Congress as an “earmark.” Essentially the term designates any time a Member of Congress specifies an expenditure — or sometimes a tax break — for an individual or company or group of individuals or companies. Prior to August of 2007, Congressmen could anonymously insert this kind of goody in appropriation, tax or authorization bills. Other Congressmen — who had their own earmarks to protect — were unlikely to question any Member’s wishes.

This year, Congress took action to stop these anonymous earmarks, but only applied the new rules requiring disclosure to the twelve appropriations bills. The thousands of other laws Congress considers each Session — including tax bills where favors are handed out like candy at Halloween — were somehow left out.

The kicker on the Wu story was that his campaign committee had received at least $7,500 in contributions from executives of the t-shirt company. Wu says there was no quid pro quo — the $3 million in exchange for the $7,500 — and it’s impossible to know for sure in this kind of chicken and egg situation.

What is clear is that Wu is not alone in securing pork-barrel projects using earmarks. Hundreds of millions of dollars — one Democrat Congressional office recently estimated the number was as high as billions — are handed out every year through the use of earmarks, most of it anonymously and without debate by the Congress.

This is not to argue that every earmark project is defective like Wu’s t-shirts or wasteful like the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” project in Alaska that was recently killed. However, the vast majority of earmark projects never receive scrutiny of any kind. It was only through the work of the media that Wu’s defective t-shirts came to light.

What is worse, of course, is the appearance of impropriety caused by Wu’s acceptance of campaign contributions from people for whom he’s sponsored earmarks. To make amends, the best thing for Wu to do would be to either return all contributions from earmark recipients or donate them to charity, and pledge to never accept contributions in the future from any person or company for whom he’s ever sponsored an earmark. If all members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation would take such a pledge, they would make a good beginning in repairing the public’s trust in government.

Kropf is the State Director of Americans for Prosperity — Oregon, a member of the nation’s premier grassroots organization committed to advancing every individual’s right to economic freedom and opportunity. He is a former State Representative from Scio.