Ezra Klein proposes a fun exercise:
Meanwhile, whenever the topic turns to earmarks, I always suggest that folks go play around the the Sunlight Foundation’s interactive earmarks map. Earmarks are rarely obviously wasteful. Rather, they’re small appropriations that exist beneath the urgency level that would merit federal consideration. So districts and states elect individual representatives and one of their side jobs is to push through local priorities. Those priorities may be odd, but relatively few are obviously wasteful. Type in my hometown of Irvine, and the nearest earmark is in Long Beach: $450,000 to outfit the children’s hospital. Near to that is Mission Viejo, with $400,000 for the Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Unity. And a tick over from that is Huntington Beach, which got $50,000 for an afterschool arts education program for low income youth. It’s easy to talk about cutting studies on bear DNA. It’s a bit harder to explain why you want to cut children’s hospitals and afterschool programs.
The general idea of earmarks is to put in provisions that will help you get re-elected. Thus, normally an earmark will be for something popular that you’re proud to claim credit for. These are the earmarks listed close to my house in DC:
- Help the Capitol Area Food Bank build a new facility.
- AFSA Education Foundation for financial literacy programs.
- Phillips Collection for National Summer Teacher Institute.
- Georgetown Visitation Monastery for digitization and technology.
- Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation, for the Full Service Community Schools program in the Canton City
- Recovery Housing treatment program for women with dual diagnoses of addiction and mental illness at the N Street Village.
- Girls Scouts or the USA, for Fair Play.
- Washington National Opera for a music education project serving Maryland schools.
- George Washington University for the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project.
- Children’s National Medical Center, for facilities and equipment.
When I do the lookup for my old neighborhood in New York City, I see literacy programs, lupus programs, etc.