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Dems right: Earmarks, donors must be unlinked

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Give me a campaign donation, and I’ll give you an earmark. That’s the kind of quid pro quo that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and two fellow Democrats seek to block.

Wednesday, southern Arizona’s Giffords and Reps. Paul Hodes of New Hampshire and Thomas Perriello of Virginia introduced a bill that would bar members of Congress from taking donations of specific earmark recipients during the two years before a re-election vote.

This would be one small step for U.S. taxpayers but a giant leap for Congress, which we predict will be in no hurry to enact the legislation.

And while we laud these legislators for their right-minded effort, we also agree with Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.: Earmarks to specific companies shouldn’t be allowed, period.

“No member of Congress should be able to award no-bid contracts – which is what many earmarks are – to private companies or other institutions, particularly those whose executives and lobbyists turn around and write campaign checks to that member,” said Flake, who supports Giffords’ bill. “Earmarks . . . are a problem that infects the entire Congress. And I think this earmark reform bill is a promising development.”

We agree this bill is a start – although we don’t think it goes far enough and we fear it won’t go far at all.

The legislation comes as Flake and others have been demanding an investigation of ties between Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and the powerful defense lobbyist group PMA, which disassembled earlier this year after being raided by the FBI in November.

Murtha, chairman of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, last week reported receiving contributions from three former PMA clients for whom he requested earmarks in pending bills. The contributions all came on the same day during the earmark vetting process, The Hill newspaper reported.

“If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district,” Murtha recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

But representatives can “take care of” districts in less questionable ways.

Giffords, for example, this year has requested earmarks for the Upper San Pedro Partnership, for University of Arizona research work, for environmentally critical projects by Pima County and the city of Tucson – but not to beef up private companies’ coffers, records indicate.

If our government must continue to use earmarks, then this is how they should be designated – to public, quasi-public and nonprofit agencies for the public good, not to private firms for a candidate’s monetary gain.

The new legislation may not resolve all problems with earmarks, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. This bill is a good start, and we hope Congress will have the conscience to support it.

Earmarks should be designated for projects in the public interest, not to private firms for a candidate’s gain.

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