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Like House colleagues, senators keep earmarks quiet

  • Story Highlights
  • Of the 100 members of the Senate, 70 don't return calls asking about earmarks
  • Six senators provide their requests, 19 refuse and five say they made none
  • Earlier requests of members of the House yielded similar results
  • Watchdog group says public must demand that Congress be more open
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When it comes to elected officials and earmarks, the policy seems to be the less said the better.

President George Bush holds up a bundle of earmarks during a February 2007 speech on fiscal responsibility.

This time the cold shoulder is coming from the Senate, which, like members of the House of Representatives, don't want the public to know which pet projects they want taxpayers to fund.

Since Monday, CNN has called -- or tried to call -- all 100 senators, asking them if they would release their 2008 earmark requests. More often then not, calls were immediately sent to voice mail and never returned.

Only six senators gave us their requests and six said they made no earmark requests. Eighteen said they would not give us their requests and 70 did not return calls. See how your senator responded

Last week, of 435 members of the House of Representatives, 312 did not respond to our requests. Of the remainder, 47 gave us their requests, 68 said they would not and six said they had not made earmark requests. Video Watch what happens when senators are asked about earmarks »

Earmarks have been a political hot button for years. Commonly derided as "pork," pet projects are tucked into spending bills. In 2006, Congress approved a record $29 billion in earmarks.

When Democrats swept into power in January, they vowed a more ethical, open and transparent government. Earmark reform was at the top of the list.

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But the party leaders have struggled to make the earmark process more transparent. Democrats have agreed to attach names to earmarks -- letting the public know which representative is asking for what -- before the bills are voted on. That will be a first, and Democrats have touted that as a sign of their openness.

But there is no law or rule that prevents any senator or congress member from releasing the requests, which is why a few have and why CNN asked for all the spending requests.

Watchdog groups, citizens and the media have tried to figure out which members of Congress were asking for what project to spend tax dollars.

"I think the only way it's going to make a difference is if average Americans from all walks of life demand that their members of Congress clean up this situation," said Tim Phillips, president of the Americans for Prosperity.

Phillips' watchdog group monitors congressional spending. On the top of the group's hit list are earmarks.

Some people answering members of Congress' phones were hostile to CNN's requests, hanging up before we could finish.

And then there was the press secretary of Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho. She said the senator couldn't release his list because it would violate a 1970s federal privacy law.

His staff declined CNN's request for an interview.

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"For a senator, a sitting U.S. senator to tell you, 'I'm not going to tell you how I'm going to spend taxpayer dollars because somehow it might violate the privacy act,' it's ludicrous," Phillips said.

"It would be laughable were it not so serious." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Todd Schwarzschild, Amanda Sealy and Brandon Clements and interns Chamise Jones, Rachel Reynolds and Craig Scholz contributed to this report

All About Government Spending

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