Alaska: Charter members, Pork Hall of Shame Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, February 07, 2006
NZ Bear has provided us with a page called the "Hall of Shame" aimed at increasing the visibility, and hopefully the shame, of those among elected officials who indulge themselves in pork projects.
This is a grassroots project where you, the readers of blogs, are asked to participate. You know your local pols better than anyone and you also are more plugged in to what they're doing in your local area. So give the page a look and if you have a contribution, make it.
On that subject, John Fund tells us of the almost single minded pursuit of pork by the Alaskan delegation to Washington DC. The state is number 1 in pork, with an average of $984.85 per person taken from the federal coffers in earmarks and the like.
Of course the king of pork is the unrepentant Senator Ted Stevens, R-AK. Certainly not among those who believe in fiscal responsibility or smaller bugets, Stevens literally scoffed at reporters last week who questioned him about earmarks and pork:
Last week Mr. Stevens went so far as to chide Capitol Hill reporters for even listening to earmark critics such as Sens. John McCain and Tom Coburn. "You guys fall for it and give them publicity," he said, and no one can doubt his authority. If anyone knows about publicity, it's the man who gave his name to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
"What needs fixing is to have the public understand what we do when we earmark bills," Mr. Stevens lectured the reporters. In this view, earmarks are just worthwhile projects for the folks back home. That view might have been defensible when earmarks were limited to the occasional project that the White House or congressional leaders allowed into a bill as "lubrication" of the legislative process to secure a key committee chairman's vote. But earmarks have multiplied. When President Reagan vetoed a highway bill in 1987, he complained that it contained a then-unprecedented 152 earmarks. Last year's highway bill alone contained 6,371 earmarks, or 42 times as many.
Fund then lists a number of "worthwhile projects for the folks back home" that the Alaskan delegation has brought to fruition. The infamous "bridge to nowhere" for instance, really doesn't go to "nowhere" but instead makes land owned by close friends and associates much more valuable. And those associates happen to include Gov. Frank Murkowski, a former Senatorial colleague and now Governor of Alaska, and Murkowski's daughter, Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed to the Senate to take her father's place when he won the Governorship:
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the much-ridiculed earmark was removed from the transportation bill, although Alaska was allowed to keep the broader pot of money to spend as it saw fit. Gov. Murkowski promptly decided to build the bridge anyway, proposing a down payment of $91 million—the most he could provide under federal-state spending formulas.
Before her father stepped in to ensure the bridge would be built, Sen. Murkowski lamented it was "very difficult to stand here as an Alaskan and not take this [criticism] personally." Indeed, the issue was personal in a sense. It turns out the senator's mother, Nancy, who is also the governor's wife, is co-owner with her three siblings of a 35-acre parcel of land on Gravina Island. Critics charge that the bridge will spur development, increasing the value of the Murkowski property, which is one of the few privately held plots on the island.
The Murkowski family has taken umbrage at any suggestion of impropriety. Sen. Murkowski called her family's undeveloped Gravina parcel "a worthless piece of property." Her mother wrote the Anchorage Daily News that "we have tried to sell it a number of times but found no willing buyers. . . . As far as access to the Ketchikan Airport, forget it. It's on the wrong end of the island." But in reality, her plot is valued by local officials at $245,000 and is within three-fourths of a mile of the proposed bridge's western end. A local realtor told me the land would substantially increase in value if the bridge was built.
While the increased visibility brought to the "bridge to nowhere" caused the earmark to be removed, the project remains alive and we can all begin to see why. Taxpayer money used to increase the value of privately held land. Almost a reverse Kelo.
And, of course, the Murkowskis aren't the only politician to benefit from the bridge:
Another beneficiary of Governor Murkowski's decision to plow the state's share of federal transportation dollars into bridges is a controversial $223 million span near Anchorage that would connect that city with a nearly deserted port. The bridge will be called Don Young's Way after Alaska's lone House member, who also serves as chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
It could be Don Young's way in more senses than that. The Anchorage Daily News reports that Art Nelson, Mr. Young's son-in-law, is part owner of 60 acres of what he described as "beautiful property" on land that will be opened up to development by the bridge.
"A bridge would change everything," reported the Daily News. "Don Young's Way would . . . make the land much more valuable." Mr. Nelson, told the paper he did discuss his partial acquisition of the 60 acres with Mr. Young. One of the other owners of the land is fisheries lobbyist Trevor McCabe, a former legislative director for none other than Sen. Stevens. Until last October, Mr. McCabe was partners with state senator Ben Stevens, the son of Ted Stevens, in a consulting firm called Advance North that represents salmon fishermen who are regulated by the state Board of Fisheries, which is chaired by none other than Mr. Nelson, Rep. Young's son-in-law.
Funny how such a relatively small island (population 50) has so many politicians and relations of politicians owning as much "worthless land" as they presently own, isn't it?
Of course these are pretty blatant examples of robbing the public treasury to help particular constituents (in this case mostly other politicians and their families in Alasaka). This goes on every single day in DC. It is this culture which has to be changed. One way to change it is to continue to put pressure on politicians through exposure and visibility. That's something blogs can do. The other is to support efforts like those Senators Coburn and McCain are attempting. That's another thing blogs can do.
So prepare yourself in the future to see more and more exposés concerning earmarks and pork. The aim is to change the culture in Washington. And to do that you have to aim the majority of the effort at the ruling party since they're the party that can do something about it. As Fund points out:
Earmarks represent a looming political disaster for the GOP. Last year Congress authorized a record 13,999 earmarks. The scandals surrounding just a few of them involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham have sent reporters scurrying to find what other nuggets of news might be buried in the remainder. If just 1% of the earmarks turn out to be embarrassing, that's 140 stories. If a mere 0.1% turn out to be legally questionable, that's 14 front-page exposés between now and the November election. Because they are in charge of Congress, Republicans will take the brunt of any political fallout, even though Democrats routinely secure an estimated 45% of earmark spending.
So keep an eye out in your local area. Help raise the visibility of these efforts. Send one of the blogs engaged in this effort any info you may have which we can blog about. Let's see if we can indeed actually influence this effort to change the present culture in Washington. We certainly have nothing to lose through such an effort.
“Funny how such a relatively small island (population 50) has so many politicians and relations of politicians owning as much “worthless land” as they presently own, isn’t it?”
I have a feeling this is going to become less funny for the brazen porkers in Alaska who enjoy joking about how much they can steal from the taxpayers. What will finish first, the investigations or the construction?