Thursday, June 28, 2007
Senators snub summer interns
Our interns are at it again tonight, this time polling members of the Senate asking them to release their earmark requests. And once again we are mostly being snubbed.

Most in the House refused to even answer our calls, and from the running tally we're keeping, the Senate is following the same strategy as the House: not giving us the time of day.

There are a few mavericks. Presidential contender Barack Obama was ahead of the pack, releasing his earmark requests last week. John McCain doesn't have any earmark requests, which I think is being the most maverick of all.

But offices of the other senators running for president -- Senators Clinton, Dodd, Biden and Brownback -- didn't bother returning our phone calls or told us they would get back to us and haven't.

Click here to see how your senator responded

The point of this exercise isn't to embarrass anyone or show how rude members of Congress and their staff can be. I really want you to know what your representatives are asking for, so you can see where our money is going.

Not naming names here, so I'm not accused of being political, but one congressman wants to spend money to make sure minorities are hired at an airport. Fine, except for one little detail that was left out of the earmark: the airport doesn't exist. It hasn't been built; it hasn't even been approved to be built. There is no airport. Congress is going to spend $231,000 deciding who is getting hired at an airport where no one is getting hired.

Lots of senators and congressman support the arts. So do I. But do you want $150,000 dollars to be sent to a museum that is so poorly attended it is only open two days a year? That actually was approved.

When I was born in the early 1960s, the quote ringing in my ear was from John Kennedy. And it stuck with me. "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Somehow, in the last four decades that great piece of wisdom has been twisted by John Kennedy's own Democratic Party and ignored by the Republicans. The rallying cry in D.C. today: "Ask often, ask for a lot and if you don't get enough, ask the taxpayers to give you even more."

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma told me he's disgusted by what he sees in Washington. He's one of the few who doesn't ask for earmarks for his state, telling me it shouldn't be a game about what Oklahoma can get from the federal government.

It's a game that has left the United States with a huge and still growing federal bureaucracy and a collective national debt that keeps getting pushed off to future generations.

"Both parties are equally guilty," he told me on the steps of the Russell Senate Office building. "How did we get to the fact that every kid born this year is going to owe $453,000 dollars on what we've already spent?"

Granted, earmark requests are just a small portion of that federal budget deficit. But I urge every one of you to look at the requests your congressional representatives have made on your behalf, and ask yourself: Is this really what the federal government should be paying for? Let me know what you find out.

-- By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 2:47 PM ET
If you really want to give your interns something to chew on, you should turn them loose on the budget that the administration sends to congress in the first place.

I'd be very interested in what they discovered there.
Posted By Arachnae, Sterling VA : 3:40 PM ET

I wrote my Congress member Jerry McNerney about his "no" and he has since posted his earmarks on his website. So he gets credit for that. However, I do hope his staff was polite to the intern.

I looked at the list and saw no highways to nowhere, although some of the earmarks were for specific streets in other cities so I have to assume there is such a street. While I didn't see anything dodgy, in general I thought why aren't these worthy projects included in a budget somewhere? Why can't a city put money in their public works budget to improve those streets? Why can't the appropriate federal agency fund this study or that initiative? Why can't block grants be increased and have sufficient flexibility so that local communities can decide where they need the money spent for themselves? Good gravy, I pay enough in taxes to choke a horse. I have the same complaint about the proposition process in CA. Every election we get propositions for bond issues to spend money like drunken sailors. Well, if this stuff is a good idea why can't our full time legislature find a spot for them in the budget. It is all rather cowardly I think.

So to answer your question, even if the ear marks are for worthy projects, this is not a way to run a country. However, who will have the guts to stop this?
Posted By Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 3:44 PM ET
I suspect that such things will continue until voters begin to look at earmarks, not as their representative bringing something back to the district, but as their representative authorizing their tax dollars to be wasted on special interest projects around the country.

Perhaps the next election cycle will feature campaign commercials listing all the incumbent's votes on the creative ways to spend money outside of their district.
Posted By Eric Hanson, Elmira, NY : 4:34 PM ET
Drew: I did email my representative last week. Never did hear back from him but he has since responded and disclosed his earmarks to CNN. What is interesting, though, is that he did not state how much money is being spent per earmark request just a total amount. Hmmmm....I guess I'll be emailing him again!
Posted By Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 5:46 PM ET
Well, at least my Senator complied. I will give my Congresswoman another week and try her again. This story is a real eye-opener about how Congress is spending money and trying to hide where it is going. Thanks to your interns and their hard work!
Posted By Kathy Chicago,Il : 5:49 PM ET
Hi Drew,

Thanks for the reminder...I just emailed Congressman Brad Sherman in District 27 of California that I was disappointed that he and many other members of Congress have responded negatively or not responded to the interns requests. I told him that I will not be voting for him in the next election as I don't believe he's serving in the best interests of the people by these actions. I'd love to know if my Senator has also refused your interns requests or not responded either. It's time to clean up this government!
Posted By M. Wong, Van Nuys, CA : 6:14 PM ET
This is something that I have given some thought to. Congressional earmarks are nothing new to Congressial businessm neither is the media talking about how Congress missappropriates the funds. I grew up with the late Peter Jennings "Fleecing of America" stories that would be mind blowing. Back then they called earmarks pork specifically pork spending.

I think that the Congresspeople are being rude to you because politics is a rough and tumble business (as you well know) and if written statements are given out to the press about what the congresspeople are actually doing with our tax dollars, it could be used against them in their reelection campaigns.

I think that Congresspeople should be more responsible with the money that they have custody over, but that responsibility is hard assume when for years the status quo has been to approve these weird projects. Some congresspeople will continue doing it.

What I think you will get more traction on with the public is showing exactly where the earmarks are going to. Like the airport that doesn't exist, interview the congressperson who requested that earmark.

Talk to these congresspeople and figure out why they are spending the money the way they are. Find out why they have sent out a mass email to every congress person warning them of your interns. Turn up the heat and then see what happens.

Posted By Slyvie Grace; Atlanta, Georgia : 6:18 PM ET
I guess I'm not all that surprised that the Senate is following in the House's footsteps.

I am however, pleasantly surprised that one of the six senators that complied with CNN's request was my very own Senator Chuck Grassley. Good for you Chuck! I guess I'll be making a call to my other senator and congressmen tomorrow...
Posted By Evelyn, Des Moines, IA : 12:05 AM ET
I'm surprised to learn that you in the media have to call the offices of the senators and congressmen to ask for important information like this. I thought that government officials submitted reports on this regularly and even put them on their websites so that the taxpayers could just check it out there. It's very strange that many people criticize nongovernment figures like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, etc., for spending their money and time on superficial things when what they do with their and/or their family's money is none of our business, whereas how our government officials spend our money is definitely our business but it is information that's hard for us and even for the media to get. This should be given endless media attention, not the Paris Hiltons of the world.
Posted By Cristina, Manila, Philippines : 5:28 AM ET
The two Senators from Kentucky have not replied to your survey. This is not surprising to me, considering they've never voted or acted in a way that represents my view. I guess this makes things even: I've never voted for either of them!
Posted By Diana; Bowling Green, KY : 10:20 AM ET
I was appalled to find that one of my senators, who I believe has represented me well in the past, has refused to cooperate with your request to reveal her earmarks. I sent her the following e-mail:

I would like to know why you have refused to reveal your earmark requests to CNN. Is this issue more complicated than it seems? One could infer by your refusal to cooperate with this request that you do not believe in openness in government or that you have something to hide. As a taxpayer and resident of California, I would like to know how you are spending our money.

I hope I get a better response from her than I did from my Congresswoman which was zilch, gornisht, nada.
Posted By Barbara, Culver City, CA : 1:36 PM ET
One man's earmarks/pork barrel politics are another man's necessary infrastructure spending.

As long as our representatives are bringing the money back to our district and we are benefiting financially, we kid ourselves that it's a necessary program while everyone else's is a pure waste of tax dollars.
Posted By liz, Montgomery, AL : 2:24 PM ET
Hi Drew, first thank you and everyone there for staying on top of this. It really is important. Like a lot of people I was annoyed, but not surprised, to find my congressman on the "No response" list, but when I saw that one of my senators was on the "No" list I went from annoyed to angry. We all have a right to know how those who are supposedly representing us are spending our money. It's like hiring an account and having them say sorry you don't have a right to know where your money is going.

I have contacted all of my congressional representatives and will let you know what, if any, response I get.

Thanks again!
Posted By Jennifer, Ashburn VA : 2:25 PM ET
Well Holy Hannaha!!!! Sen Bill Nelson-D-Fla good job!! Anderson, do these people not watch your show? Let them know the voters do. Sen. Mel Martinez-R-Fla shame on you!!!
Posted By Rhonda Neal Ft Myers FL : 3:51 PM ET
Drew - I am disappointed in both of Nevada's senators, especially Majority Leader Harry Reid. And I still haven't heard back from my Congresswoman, despite emailing her and calling her office.

Keep up the good work - let's keep them honest!
Posted By Barbara, Las Vegas, NV : 6:17 PM ET

Between Barbara from Culver City and me, Feinstein and Boxer will get at least two e-mails requesting that they release their ear marks. We'll see what Di and Babs have to say for themselves. I started my e-mail with : "you knew the call was coming from CNN. Why weren't you ready with your list?" They are both so high profile in the Senate I would have thought they would have been more proactive.
Posted By Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 6:22 PM ET
Hi Drew! I just emailed my senator, who by the way was a "no response". I will let you know if I get a reply. I hope he is more cooperative than my congressman.
Oh, and I thought it was very cool of you to read my entry in your report last week!
Posted By Jess, Paris, KY : 5:02 PM ET

Keep those interns working on this. 100% of Congress should respond to how they are spending our money. Nothing less than full accountabliity should be the standard.

Thanks for your great reporting.
Posted By John Carhuff, Tucson AZ : 9:49 PM ET
I'm in Oklahoma and I really would be surprised if they disclosed anything. One stated that he did not request any earmarks while NR for the other. No big deal. We're used to it here, unfortunately. So as we try and change our "Okie" stereotype (hell, we just legalized tattooing THIS year) remember, if you come to visit us, remember to set your watch back 50 years.

Lindsay Hamilton, Norman, OK
Posted By Lindsay : 3:43 PM ET
While I was not surprised that the senators from Alabama did not answer your request (they never answer questions from their consitutency either), I was disappointed that Lamar Alexander from my native state of Tennessee had not answered either. He used to be Tennessee's governor, ran for president, stood for honesty in government and openness with the people, etc. I guess with age our ideals from our youth fade away.

I will be writing and/or calling my current representation and sending a note of disappointment to Sen. Alexander, whose campaign I formerly worked in. I have no illusions that either will help, but at least I can add my voice to the effort.
Posted By Annie Kate, Birmingham AL : 10:51 PM ET
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