Having Their Earmarks and Investigating Them Too

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


It appears members of the House ethics committee want to have it both ways. When it came time to vote yesterday on a series of amendments to strip earmarks from the pork-laden defense appropriations bill, each of the panel’s ten members voted “present,” declining to support or oppose the measures. Presumably these lawmakers were trying to demonstrate their impartiality, since they are presently investigating earmarks steered  to clients of the PMA Group, the now defunct lobbying firm founded by an ex-aide to Jack Murtha. (Under scrutiny along with Murtha are Democratic Reps. Peter Visclosky of Indiana and James Moran of Virginia, who also had PMA ties.) Yet, at the very same time as these lawmakers were abstaining from these votes, they had their own pet projects tucked into the approps bill. Twenty nine of them, according to the Washington Post, worth $59 million.

Congressional ethics experts said the ethics committee earmarks create at least the appearance of a conflict of interest, and some in the public would naturally question how thoroughly the committee might investigate members on the subcommittee that granted their funding wishes.

“At the same time the committee is investigating the ties between lobby shops and earmarks and appropriators, they are actually playing the game themselves,” said Steve Ellis, of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. “It’s hard not to see some conflict of interest in that.”

Ethics committee chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who has three earmarks in the bill, explained to the Post: “When one is appointed to the ethics committee, one is not relieved of the responsibility to represent one’s district.” That is, just because she’s leading an investigation into the corrupting powers of pork, doesn’t mean she’s going to stop bringing home the bacon herself. Then why vote “present” on the earmark amendments? Perhaps to avoid news stories questioning whether ethics committee members can truly investigate earmarks, when they themselves rely on them to direct funding to their districts. Too late.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest