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Thursday, June 21, 2007
Interns chase congressional pork
We've been reporting on all the debate over earmark requests. At issue is when and how members of Congress would tell the American people what they've requested.

Many of their projects are worthwhile, at least in the districts where they are needed: road projects, funding for a library, etc...

But then again, a lot of those earmarks are really just good old-fashioned congressional pork. We've told you about a few: bridges to nowhere, and renovations at a fancy Florida hotel, even a $500,000 facelift for a ski lift in Alaska.

Before Democrats came to power in the recent election, they vowed to fix the broken earmark process. They promised complete transparency. No secret spending, no backroom deals, and presumably no more bridges to nowhere.

Wisconsin Democrat David Obey, head of the House Appropriations Committee, even said on the house floor that he is "trying and so is our leadership to reduce earmarks by at least 50 percent."

Watchdog groups have told me the best way to reduce earmark requests (requests for your tax money) is to expose them early and often. The theory is that a member of Congress would think twice about what he or she is requesting, if the request itself would be made public.

Enter our intrepid interns. Their task: Call every member of congress and ask them to hand over their earmark requests.

After three days of actually calling each and every House office, 34 members of congress -- just 34 -- sent us their earmark requests.

But since then, a wave of pressure has apparently changed some minds. Our report caught the attention of political bloggers demanding Congress release its requests, The Chicago Tribune ran an editorial asking why members of the Illinois delegation were being so secretive, and today, Barack Obama raised the stakes in the presidential race by being the first in the race to release his requests.

Our results as of this writing:

  • 45 have turned over their requests.
  • 68 flat out refused.
  • 6 told us they did not request any earmarks.
  • But the majority, 316, never responded.

Want to see how your Representative responded? You can check them out in our web listing. And do me a favor. If your congressperson hasn't gotten back to us, you might want to send them a note asking why. After all, it's their plan for your money. Shouldn't you know what they want to do with it?

-- By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent

Posted By CNN: 4:39 PM ET
  35 Comments
I got two words for Congressmen of all parties:


term limits.
Posted By xtina - chicago, IL : 5:26 PM ET
Hi Drew,
That's a lot of NO comments you've received so far. I wonder how hard it really is to come clean with the info on the slop of piggy projects. As they say "You can't make a silk purse out of a sows ear." Pork is pork regardless of how you dress it up. Miss Piggy being the only exception to that rule...Take Care
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 5:40 PM ET
Drew, I saw the listing of those who responded. My congressman was not on the list so I sent an email to his office. Maybe if other constituents did the same, there would be more results.

Keep up the good work!
Posted By Jess, Paris, KY : 5:46 PM ET
Hi Drew,
It's good to see that you're still on the trail regarding ridiculous earmark requests. The earmark log looked bigger than several copies of War and Peace. Bet there were a lot of surprises! People of both parties in the general population seem interested in this, also.
Kudos to the members of congress who were willing to be transparent in their requests when CNN asked. As for the others: "What's 'shakin bacon?"
Posted By Carol B., Frederick, MD : 5:58 PM ET
I've phoned Congressman John Sullivan of Oklahoma's 1st district (The Fightin' First!) a few times since this report aired but haven't gotten a hold of him. I never use my cell phone but I am happy to rake up some charges with this important task.
So long $0.84 monthly average!
Posted By Kayli - Tulsa, OK : 5:59 PM ET
Not to be cynical here, but did anyone really believe that a promise from Congress meant anything? Unless, of course, you're buying that promise...
Posted By Anne Charlotte, NC : 6:35 PM ET
Drew: This topic intrigues me to no end. Apparently my home state and district hasn't responded. So I emailed my Congressman today. I'll let you know what happens.

I just love shaking the boat…don't you?
Posted By Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 6:37 PM ET
I'm happy that the representatives from Chicago answered ac360's request and emailed lists of earmarks. A tip o' the hat to both Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Rahm Emanuel who responded. Most of it looks appropriate, although I have a disagreement with both the Art Institute and Shedd Aquarium funding. Those two institutions have large endowments and money from big numbers of tourist donations and don't need to be taking taxpayers' money on top of that. I don't see any frivilous things on the Illinois lists, other than those two.
Posted By xtina - chicago IL : 6:52 PM ET
Of the 19 U.S. House representatives from Pennsylvania, only one, Rep. Todd Platts, has responded to the request by listing his earmark requests. None of the other Representatives, including my representative, Rep. Tim Murphy, have submitted their earmark budget requests.

As an informed voter, I feel the public has the right to know what budget requests are being made by our Representatives in Congress before the budget is passed.

It's time for the members of Congress to remember we, the voters, are their employer. When it comes time for their employee review in November 2008, we can replace all of them if need be.
Posted By Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 7:20 PM ET
Hi Drew,
I just checked the website and discovered that my "honest" congressman has refused to release his earmark requests. You can bet he will be getting an email from me- and a "no" vote in the next election.
Thanks!
Posted By Pamina. Pittsford, New York : 7:35 PM ET
Drew:

Not making any excuses for anyone but our Congressmen Vern Buchanan is still in the middle of multiple lawsuits due to the election last year.

Remember, I am in Florida. We just got the paper trail issue settled!

The folks in his office are nice people so I will follow up with them at the end of the month if they have not complied with your request.

Drew, next time you are in DC at Pennsylvania Ave near the Canadian Embassy take note of a new glass building that is going up. I am not sure what the building will house but the First Amendment of the Constitution has been etched into the building.

Then reflect on your great work that you and your team are doing. Now think about your work under Castro or Chavez. It just wouldn't be happening. Thanks for KTH.
Posted By Renee Bradenton, FL : 7:38 PM ET
I contacted my congresswoman, Shelley Berkley from Nevada, and haven't heard back from her. I know who I won't be voting for in the next election!
Posted By Barbara from Las Vegas, NV : 7:44 PM ET
Hi Drew,

Thanks for continuing the fight to make and keep our government honest to the people. I'm calling out my Congressman, Brad Sherman of District 27 in CA, to respond. He will most certainly be receiving an email from me on why he has not responded and if he doesn't respond with a yes, I will NOT vote for him in the next election.
Posted By M. Wong, Van Nuys, CA : 8:09 PM ET
Drew,

I watched with interest the report on earmarks by the Representatives. I felt fairly comfortable with Missouri Districts 3&4, after all I have known one of them (not personally) for years, the other has the legacy his father left. How can I ever express my disappointment when I checked the list?

Ike Skelton once had an office not far from one of the Sonic Drive-In, so it was quite normal to see him coming and going. Very pleasant, an air of honesty and responsibility. MR SKELTON'S CHOSE NOT TO RESPOND.

Russ Carnahan? I don't know Russ, but I knew his father, Mel Carnahan, and his brother "Randy". Both died, along with Mel's campaign manager just outside St. Louis, when their small plane went down one snowy October afternoon.
Jean, Russ' mom assumed her husband's chair until the election, which was just weeks away. Don't you know how proud Mel was of his politician son WHO ALSO CHOSE NOT TO RESPOND?

If you aren't hiding something, why are you hiding the reports? Respond, or wait for the letters to come, and come they will. Old "Give 'em Hell, Harry" rubbed off on some of us.

Thanks for pushing this,

Maggie
Posted By Maggie, Grain Valley. MO : 8:10 PM ET
My representative is Lois Capps and, I have to say, her office has been less than forthcoming on this. Please keep pushing this. It's been going on too long, as have some of the ridiculous subsidies we're still funding.

John T.

Santa Maria, CA
Posted By Anonymous : 8:17 PM ET
Drew/AC360:

I agree with the idea of term limits. When a member of Congress becomes too arrogant to disclosure information to his/her contingency, they should be ousted either by the vote or a term limit.
Posted By Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 8:19 PM ET
Thank you CNN for covering this story and for putting pressure on Congress to release their earmark requests. The American people deserve to know what their tax money is going toward! I have written my Representative several times already demanding that he explain why he has yet to release his requests or why he has failed to even respond to your call, however I have yet to get a response from his office and from your web listings, he has yet to get back to you. It is ridiculous and the American people deserve answers. We have to keep our Congressmen and Congresswomen honest and accountable!
Posted By Jessica, Bourbonnais Illinois : 8:36 PM ET
Drew,

I am humiliated. My guy Jerry McNerney (the Fighting 11th) is a no. I can't believe he said no to the CNN intern. I was sure he would be a yes. I am writing an e-mail right now before I start dinner.

I hope Stephen Colbert does a bit on this. Maybe ribbing from Colbert will shame some congress members into being more transparent. That is the buzz word in government these days--transparency. Hope the interns used that lingo.
Posted By Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 8:47 PM ET
What does this say about our great new Democratically controlled congress when my Rep., Nancy Pelosi gives a big fat NO. I guess it's naive to have thought otherwise.
Posted By Kelly Breuer, San Francisco, CA : 9:07 PM ET
TSK TSK, 316?!

I like hearing about this pork, and I like how it's called pork. Right on to the other commenter who wrote a letter to their congressman. I think I'll go check out the list...
Posted By Sarah, Grantham, PA : 9:35 PM ET
OK Drew, I just sent an e-mail to Melissa Bean,8th district from Il. I will let you know if she responds.
Posted By Kathy Chicago,Il : 11:05 PM ET
I would think that the Congress would rather disclose the earmarks or "legislative directed spending" which fails to be debated, discussed or voted on on their web sites. Especially before they receive an overwhelming amount of phone calls, emails and don't forget the Freedom of Information Act requests for disclosure. That is a lot of extra work when they could have disclosed it up front. Accountability has to start... it has to happen. And soon.
Posted By Sue in Austin TX : 11:11 PM ET
I would think that the Congress would rather disclose the earmarks or "legislative directed spending" which fails to be debated, discussed or voted on on their web sites. Especially before they receive an overwhelming amount of phone calls, emails and don't forget the Freedom of Information Act requests for disclosure. That is a lot of extra work when they could have disclosed it up front. Accountability has to start... it has to happen. And soon.
Posted By Sue in Austin TX : 11:11 PM ET
Good work! This is why I watch AC360 everyday!
Posted By Florence from Burbank, CA : 11:15 PM ET
Anderson, "Keeping them Honest" is the best part of your program. Healthcare and our school systems are in shambles. Who knows how much Katrina is still costing us with little to show for it. What a scandal for our Congress to deliberately hide these "earmarks" from the rest of us! If we "Keep" booting out the incumbents in the next few elections, just maybe we will get some "Honest" people in Washington. Hang on to this one like a pit bull.

Phil Moubray,
Green, OH
Posted By tavish : 12:49 AM ET
My Representative, Brian Baird, hasn't replied yet. Of the one Washington Representative who has, though, I have no issue with any of the individual requests. What's staggering is the number of requests and how many hundreds of millions he is asking for. I have to wonder if they just put them all out there at the top amount, planning to bargain down the amount of money along with the number of requests.
Posted By Sarah, South Bend, WA : 1:19 AM ET
Drew - I've emailed my congresswoman, Shelley Berkeley, (haven't heard back), and also tried to email my hometown congressman. Although I'm not one of his constituents now, I did support him and voted for him many times when I lived in the 6th Congressional District in Tennessee. I've found that it is nearly impossible to email a member of Congress unless you are a current constituent. This is something else that I find very odd.
Posted By Barbara, Las Vegas, NV : 2:36 AM ET
Just e-mailed Kline of Mn district 2..was very unhappy to see that NO Minnesota reps of either party answered your queries...told Kline I figured he'd want to be the first. Told him to "be a big boy and fess up!"..told him we had a right to know what earmarks he was requesting in our name, and that I am still looking for honest and open answers from the gov't..FAT CHANCE! Keep up the good work!
Posted By Elise, Watertown, Mn : 3:31 AM ET
I’m willing to make a sensible bet that not one Congressional member requested earmark funding for improved boarder security in their state. If so , who was that Congressional member?
Posted By Stewart Martin Broomfield, CO : 4:48 AM ET
Not one single Congressman from North Carolina consented to CNN's request! Since I am in Myrick's district, she was the only one I could e-mail about it, but I hope everyone else from NC who reads this will e-mail the Congressman from whatever district they are in. I also hope that CNN will stay on the story and not get distracted when the next celebrity checks into rehab.
Posted By Anne Charlotte, NC : 1:16 PM ET
How about Let it Be by the Beatles or Hate War by the Clash
Posted By Meagan Alpharetta Georgia : 1:21 PM ET
I checked on my current Rep, Joe Barton-TX 6th, and my former Rep, Sam Johnson-TX 3rd. Mr. Johnson shows "no reply", but has his earmarks posted on his webpage. Way to go Sam!! Mr. Barton has no comment on his webpage and has received an email and a phone call. Voters Unite!! It's our money and our country. Stay active or watch your rights slip away.
Posted By Eric Terrell : 2:54 PM ET
I find it interesting that so many didn't even choose to respond. Kudos to the 51 that opted to. (45 with requests and 6 with no requests should fall into the same category).

I respect the 68 that refused. At least they aknowledged that a legit question was being asked by concerned citizens.

My concern is the 316 that didn't respond in any fashion. To often we veiw our government as "The Government". I think it is elected officials such as these that give it that air, the seperation from the ideal set forth of "for and of" the people. When seventy five percent choose to ignore a request, I'm concerned. It is one thing to choose not to provide the requested information. It is another to ignore the fact that a request was made. It is the seemingly casual disregard of the request that makes me wonder if they truly wish to serve the people that elected them. They are called public servants for a reason. They should be providing us with service.
Posted By Ken - Portland, OR : 3:39 PM ET
I'm glad this was made public. I'm also happy that my representative Nancy Boyda, for whom I voted, made a difference by responding to CNN's request for information. I think this increased transparency benefits both Rep Boyda and our district (2nd Kansas).
Posted By Chris, Lawrence Ks : 10:14 PM ET
Thank you, CNN, for your efforts!

Today I called the offices of all twelve Massachusetts Congressmen, asking why they had not responded to your request, with the following results: one (Barney Frank) has the information at the top of his website. Nice work! One, Sen. Kennedy, hung up on me twice when I asked the question. I'll be making every possible effort to relieve him of his day job. One (Rep. Capuano) said that it was "against office policy" to disclose this information. He and Kennedy can go fishing together. Three asked that I call back next week. Two said that the person with the answer was not in the office. One said that more time was needed to meet the request. Two will reply to me by mail. One simply did not know.

My commendations go to Barney Frank. Kennedy and Capuano have gained the best negative campaigning I can muster. As to the others, I will be making follow-up calls and E-mails.

Congress, I have heard, has the lowest approval rating since polling was started. To ask "Why?" is not an intelligent question.
Posted By Don Spofford, Ayer, MA : 2:41 PM ET
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