An AP story appearing Sunday began, “President Barack Obama’s ban on earmarks in the $825 billion economic stimulus bill doesn’t mean interest groups, lobbyists and lawmakers won’t be able to funnel money to pet projects … The result … is a shadowy lobbying effort that may make it difficult to discern how hundreds of billions in federal money will be parceled out.”
The more we learn about the proposed Pelosi-Obey $825 billion economic stimulus proposal, the more it looks like an $825 billion earmark. Excluded from the package are good government provisions that would prohibit use of economic stimulus funds for lobbying or political activities. Democratic leaders are repeatedly touting the importance of passing their bill, yet are taking the path of least resistance and failing to ensure that the funds actually go towards the stated goal of creating jobs and jumpstarting our economy.
Instead, we’re getting an economic stimulus that is more of a bailout for lobbyists and a vehicle for political payback. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac spent more than $170 million on lobbying, while groups like ACORN use taxpayer funds to advance a partisan agenda. Already, this Congress is prepared to repeat the failed policies that created the financial crisis and the mismanaged Wall Street bailout. More and more, this ‘stimulus’ is looking like a mad rush to expand government and steer billions of dollars to political supporters.
A closer look at the so-called “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” reveals the failure to prohibit on use of economic stimulus funds for lobbying or political activities (Sec. 1106, p.7). A Government Accountability Office Report noted, “The most common form of appropriation act restriction prohibits the use of funds for ‘publicity or propaganda’ (Principles of Federal Appropriations, Jan. 2004, p. 4-197).” No such restriction exists in this act.
It creates a multi-billion dollar housing slush fund that allows the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to waive rules on the spending of funds. These provisions waive critical rules designed to prevent waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds by organizations such as ACORN (Title XII p. 224-236).
Speaking of ACORN, it will be the likely beneficiary of funds from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program (report language p. 73).
Even the World Wildlife Foundation, which received 13 percent of last year’s budget from government grants and contracts, could stand to benefit from money earmarked for “Science” from funds allocated to NASA (bill p. 60).
Even more egregious or blatant is the fact that MoveOn.org’s civic action committee could receive stimulus funds such as money earmarked for energy “activities” (bill p. 69), since MoveOn.org lists one of its goals to “reduce America’s dependence on oil.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office, less than half of the Democrat stimulus will be spent in the next two years, yet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears eager to use an economic crisis as a guise to fast-track funds for political allies such as ACORN and MoveOn.org.
This failure to prohibit the use of funds for lobbying or political purposes is outrageous and I intend to offer an amendment to prevent the use of any stimulus funds for any lobbying or political activities. At a time when we are mired in a deep recession, we have an obligation to ensure that every dollar spent advances the objective of stimulating our economy – not inflating the coffers of special interest groups.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.