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Watch the Earmarkers

September 24, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Congress passed new rules to make earmarking more transparent, now it’s our turn to hold them accountable. Today, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Sunlight Foundation launched EarmarkWatch.org, a new site that encourages distributive research and makes earmark reviewing easy.

Earmarks are spending requests that individual members of congress place inside of bills to direct funds to specific projects or recipients. Some bills include upwards of 1,000 earmarks, and more often than not, they are approved without scrutiny or oversight. Although earmarking has some legitimate value — an individual congressman knows his district’s needs better than the collective knowledge of the House — the practice has grown tremendously in the past decade and it has earned a reputation as Congress’s vehicle for waste and abuse. As was the case with infamous former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, earmarks are sometimes used as payback for corporate bribes.

EarmarkWatch.org is user-friendly. It combine the raw data provided under Congress’s new transparency rules — the earmark recipient, it’s amount, and it’s congressional sponsor — with forms and tools that help users collaboratively dig in deeper to reveal related campaign contribution information, lobbying activity, and other information that has been made public on the internet. Additionally, each earmark has its own comment board, so researchers (that’s all of us potentially) can share their findings and ideas towards coming up with a collaborative analysis. With all of this information together on one page, we can come much closer to discovering the real story behind an earmark.

EarmarkWatch.org also lets you view earmarks arranged by their sponsor. This allows us to piece together the earmarking trends of our elected officials. For example, Taxpayes for Common Sense, using the data they have made available on this site, recently found that “every private entity that Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) favored with an earmark in this year’s defense bill recently has given political money to the lawmaker.” Don’t be surprised if similar patterns emerge.

Right now the site has data available for the House Defense Appropriations Bill and the House and Senate versions of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bills. There are about 3,800 earmarks in this bills that can be investigated right now, and they are working on putting up earmarks from the other appropriations bills.

Sign up for an account today, and, together, we’ll dig up some serious dirt!

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