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I shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there. We shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your convenience. You will all receive invitations to post to the blog. (Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.) I encourage you to use the blog in these ways:
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lettermarking and Phonemarking

Bans on earmarks mean less than you might think. For one thing, earmarks account for only a tiny sliver of federal spending. For another, there are ways around earmark bans. The New York Times reports on Senator (and former Representative) Mark Kirk (R-IL):

Mr. Kirk, for example, sent a letter to the Department of Education dated Sept. 10, 2009, asking it to release money “needed to support students and educational programs” in a local school district. The letter was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the group Citizens Against Government Waste, which shared it with The New York Times.

The district, Woodland School District 50, said it later received about $1.1 million in stimulus money.

In response to questions about the letter, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kirk defended the practice of reaching out to federal agencies to secure financing for constituents.

“Senator-elect Kirk became the first member of the Appropriations Committee to stop requesting earmarks and voted against the stimulus bill,” the spokeswoman, Susan Kuczka, said in a prepared statement. “He has and will continue to be an advocate for his Illinois constituents before administration agencies but will not request Congressional earmarks to be included in House or Senate legislation.”

Lettermarking, which takes place outside the Congressional appropriations process, is one of the many ways that legislators who support a ban on earmarks try to direct money back home.

In phonemarking, a lawmaker calls an agency to request financing for a project. More indirectly, members of Congress make use of what are known as soft earmarks, which involve making suggestions about where money should be directed, instead of explicitly instructing agencies to finance a project. Members also push for increases in financing of certain accounts in a federal agency’s budget and then forcefully request that the agency spend the money on the members’ pet project.

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