This article sets out to prove the following hypothesis:
"Congressional earmarks never benefit the average taxpayer and provide advantage only to incumbent politicians."
Federal budget earmarks are specific financial grants of taxpayer money to businesses and other organizations, usually granted in return for a donation to the sponsoring politician's re-election campaign.
However, despite this trade off of taxpayer money for campaign donations, I have heard some people defend their Congressman or woman and their earmarks because they "they bring home the pork/bacon" to the home Congressional district. They act as if the money their Congressional representative directs back to someone or some organization in their district makes it a good idea to continue the earmark process, especially if their Congressional representative is conniving enough to get more than the next politician. But, consider the following math:
- The organization, Citizens Against Government Waste, who studies the earmark process, estimated that Federal earmarks in 2009 totalled .6 billion and 10,160 individual earmarks. Since we already know that the level of earmarks exceeded 11,000 in Obama's latest budget, let's conservatively assume that 2010 earmarks wasted billion of taxpayer dollars.
- The latest estimate of the United States population is approximately 308,941,909.
- There are 435 Congressional districts.
- There are, on average, 710,211 people in each Congressional district.
- If we divide the total dollars of earmarks by the number of Congressional districts we see that an average Congressional district should expect ,977,011 in earmark money to be directed to each district.
- If we divide ,977,011 by 710,211 in an average district, each person in that average district should expect to get .74 in benefit from Federal earmarks.
Thus, some people are happy to get some value back for their tax dollars when earmark money comes back to their district. However, what they fail to realize is that while they may be getting earmark money back, they are also funding earmarks in 434 other Congressional districts. If we remove ,977,011 from the total billion earmark total and divide that by the population of the United States that do not live in your average district, we see that we are contributing .... .74 to support earmarks in the other Congressional districts. In other words, it is a zero sum game when you come to average district sizes and average earmark levels.
In a zero sum game, we pay as much in earmarks to support other districts as we may be getting into our district. The only beneficiaries are politicians that barter those earmarks for campaign donations and the few people or organizations in the district that receive the earmarks. Would it not be better to give an average family of four about 0 to spend as they please (.74 times four), since they earned the money, then let the political class use it for their own perpetuation in office?
Let's look at another example. Some people might say that earmarks are a good thing if their Congressman or woman is sneaky enough to get more than an average level of earmark dollars. Wouldn't that be a good thing for my district? Not necessarily. Consider my Congressman from the Tampa Bay area. According to several sources, in 2009 my Congressman was responsible for getting funding for 86 earmarks worth 2,660,000, almost four times the amount of earmark dollars the average Congressional district would expect. Thus, you would expect that those of us in the Congressman's district would be ecstatic, he really brought home the pork. However, consider what some of this money was used for and the fact that I live in Palm Harbor, Florida:
- Some of the earmark money was used for road construction in St. Petersburg, Florida
- Some of the earmark money was used for revitalization of downtown Clearwater, Florida
- Some of the earmark money was used for a sewer upgrade in Treasure Island, Florida
As you might expect, I am not very happy about the high number of earmarks in my Congressional district since the short list of examples above, and others not listed, have absolutely no impact on my life except for the fact that my taxes helped to finance these earmarks. I have never been in Treasure Island, I do not shop in downtown Clearwater, and I rarely go to St. Petersburg. Thus, there is no reason to be excited about the higher than average levels of my Congressman's earmark bonanza since they have no benefit to me. I would prefer to keep the taxes I paid to support earmarks and let the residents of St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Treasure Island pay for their own expenses.
That is why Step 44 in "Love My Country, Loathe My Government" is so important: Prohibit the use of Federal programs or tax dollars for any project unless it materially benefits a high percentage of residents in at least five states. As we have proved mathematically above, there is no financial benefit to taxpayers when earmarks are involved, even if my Congressional representative is better than average at landing earmark money. We end up subsidizing earmarks in ever other district and earmark money coming into our district rarely benefits the average taxpayer. Better to let us keep our money and spend it in our local communities on things and services we need and not subsidize incumbents re-election campaigns.