Congress has acted to ban “earmarks” designed to benefit for-profit companies, but as Eric Lipton and Ron Nixon report for the NYT this ban turns out to be relatively easy to evade.
Which I think only returns us to the point that this is a somewhat silly area for political reformers to emphasize. If you have geographically based constituencies each represented by a single member, and a system of entrepreneurial politicians who are supposed to raise their own money, and you have relatively weak party discipline, then you’re going to have members of congress acting in support of idiosyncratic local interests. That’s baked into the cake of the system. Indeed, it’s the main thing people like about the political system — members of congress are highly responsive to local interests. Personally, I think that’s overrated and America would be better served by more systemic reform of how congress works. But earmarks are just a very small and relatively benign symptom of a system of decentralized political authority.