Tag: jeff bingaman

Bingaman Gets Paid to Flout Disclosure Rules

Judging by his earmark disclosures, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) seems to have said “To hell with you!” to the Senate Appropriations Committee and its earmarking rules. But the committee is doling out money to him anyway. It seems rules were made to be broken.

In March, the committee issued a press release reiterating its rules about earmarks—funding requests for special projects that go into Congress’ annual spending bills. Among other things, the rules say:

The Appropriations Committee will consider no request for spending on congressionally directed items … unless a description of the items proposed—including their purpose, location, the recipient of the funds, and an explanation of why the spending is in the interest of the taxpayers—is made publicly available on the Senator’s office website…

bingaman earmark disclosureTake a look at Senator Bingaman’s earmark requests [ugly PDF image] for the Energy & Water appropriations bill. It’s a day-late, dollar-short disaster! (Bingaman’s disclosures for other approps bills are collected here.)

Take one funding request, identified only as “Central NM 593.”

The location of the project is “Bernalillo, Valencia, and SandovaNM1 [sic] Counties.”

Its purpose and benefit to taxpayers? Just two words: “Water Supply.”

Nowhere does Senator Bingaman say who will receive the money. It’s something taxpayers might like to know, and the Senate Appropriations Committee requires its disclosure.

Based on that justification, Senator Bingaman got a million dollar payout. A million dollars for a two-word justification!

(There’s another that asks for funding in the amount of ‘8.00%’. What does that even mean?! Luckily it wasn’t funded…)

Senator Bingaman’s disclosure for the Energy & Water approps bill is just three pages long. Three pages cover 65 earmark requests, adding up to over half a billion dollars (and eight percent of something). Can a half-billion dollars in spending be justified in under three pages?

This should have received a “Stop—Do Not Pass Go—Do Not Collect $200” from the Senate Appropriations Committee. He obviously flouted their rules, denying the public visibility into his earmark requests as the committee required.

But Senator Bingaman got 14 earmarks in the Energy & Water bill, worth over $16 million. That’s $16 million for three uninformative pages.

This is transparency done wrong.

S. 3335 is a bill to require Congress to produce a database of earmark requests and earmarks. It has been reported to the full Senate by committee.

Timber Payments and Logrolling

Since 1908, the U.S. Forest Service has paid 25 percent of its gross receipts to the states for spending on roads and schools in the counties where national forests are located. In the Pacific Northwest, receipts started to decline in the late 1980s due to lower timber sales as a result of efforts to protect the spotted owl. In 1993, Congress responded with additional “spotted owl payments” to the affected states. A 2000 law spread these payments to all national forests, but the bulk continued to go to the Pacific Northwest.

When the law was reauthorized last year, members of Congress used it as an opportunity to grab money for their states. According to the Associated Press:

The federal largesse initially focused on a handful of Western states, with Oregon alone receiving nearly $2 billion. Spending of that magnitude, though, sparked a new timber war – this one among politicians eager to get their hands on some of the logging money. A four-year renewal of the law, passed last year, authorizes an additional $1.6 billion for the program through 2011 and shifts substantial sums to states where the spotted owl never flew. While money initially was based on historic logging levels, now any state with federal forests – even those with no history of logging – is eligible for millions in Forest Service dollars. Doling out all that taxpayer money is based less on logging losses than on the powerful reality of political clout.

Democratic New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman bluntly admitted that the money grab was a result of good ole congressional logrolling:

Of much more important note: New Mexico’s two senators served as chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate committee that rewrote the timber payments formula. New Mexico’s increase under the new formula was 692 percent… Bingaman defended the changes. ‘Frankly we had to broaden the program in order to get the support to go ahead and do a reauthorization, and that’s exactly what we did,’ he said in an interview.

And of course, the porkfest was bipartisan:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was an early backer of the law and provided political cover for Republicans to support it… Timber harvests in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest have been modest in recent decades – ranging from $7,600 to $77,000 annually – but Clay County, Ky., which includes part of the forest, received $338,510 this year from the timber program, a 341 percent increase.

A Cato essay on the U.S. Forest Service notes that a “reform step would be to revive federalism by eliminating federal forest subsidies to the states and turning portions of the national forests over to the states. Other activities could be privatized… Some experts have proposed full privatization of the national forests.”

Such reforms would help to address the chaotic nature of current forest management through the federal political process, as illustrated by the spotted owl saga.