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March 5, 2008

SEATTLE TIMES Reporter David Heath Answers Your Questions

DAVID HEATH, an investigative reporter at THE SEATTLE TIMES, answered viewer questions posed after the airing of a report on earmarks from EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS on the JOURNAL. Also, check out the Producer's note from EXPOSÉ producer Marc Shaffer.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Mr. Heath are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

Did you find anyone, in or out of Congress, who might possibly be willing to make tracking down these earmarks any easier?

How long did it take you, and then you and your two interns, to input all of this database?

Posted by: Bill Wilt | February 24, 2008 07:13 PM

There are some terrific nonprofit organizations tracking down earmarks. One is Taxpayers for Common Sense at They just posted data on all fiscal 2008 earmarks. There’s also the Sunlight Foundation, which with TCS, has a wiki version of the database at

Continue reading "SEATTLE TIMES Reporter David Heath Answers Your Questions" »

Producer's Note from Marc Shaffer

Marc Shaffer talks about the two shows he has produced on earmarks for the EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS.

The most recent show aired on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL on February 22, 2008. (Watch the show.) Also, check out SEATTLE TIMES reporter David Heath's answers to viewer questions.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Mr. Shaffer are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

Producer’s note: When it comes to answering specific questions about earmarks and the earmarking process, I leave that to David Heath, whose knowledge on the subject far exceeds my own.

But I’ll will make just a couple of prefatory remarks.

According to, what we call “pork barrel politics” - the practice of members of Congress directing federal funds to projects that specifically benefit their local constituents – is almost as old as the nation itself. The first case cited is the Bonus Bill of 1817, legislation proposed by South Carolina Democrat John Calhoun to construct highways linking the East and South of the United States to its Western frontier.

Continue reading "Producer's Note from Marc Shaffer" »

February 20, 2008

Ask the Reporter and Producer: Exposé on Bill Moyers Journal

This week BILL MOYERS JOURNAL and the PBS series EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS offer a hard and fresh look at how earmarks really work. The broadcast profiles SEATTLE TIMES reporters on the trail of how members of Congress have awarded federal dollars for questionable purposes to companies in local Congressional districts—often to companies whose executives, employees or PACs have made campaign contributions to the legislators. The segment also focuses on how earmarks for some products were added to the defense appropriations bill even in cases in which the military didn’t want them in the first place. Example: a $4.65 million patrol boat the Coast Guard hadn’t even asked for and decided it couldn’t use was eventually given away by the Coast Guard to a California Sheriff’s office. David Heath of the SEATTLE TIMES says: “They're selling a product to the military that they're not even using.”

Continue reading "Ask the Reporter and Producer: Exposé on Bill Moyers Journal" »

February 15, 2008

Where Does (And Should) The Money Go?

In the JOURNAL this week, WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO? authors and budget scrutinizers Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson contend that Washington’s fiscal irresponsibility is propelling America toward troubled times.

Scott Bittle said:

“Eventually, if nothing is done, by 2040 every dollar the federal government has will be taken in by Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the money we’ve already borrowed... Right now, one of the few areas of bipartisanship in Washington is the willingness not to deal with the problem... The war is certainly making our financial problems worse. But it’s not the sole cause and it’s not the sole answer."

Jean Johnson said:

“People don’t realize that the country has been in the red 31 out of the last 35 years, in good times and bad... There is no way to solve this problem without either raising taxes or cutting programs, or doing some of both. Right now that is a political death sentence, and we have to change that... We’re all gonna have to give a little and we’re all gonna have to live with some things that are not our first choice, but not doing anything is so much worse.”

What do you think?

  • How, if at all, do you suggest the tax code be altered to ease the government’s fiscal crunch?
  • What, if any, programs should be reduced or cut to balance the budget?
  • What other suggestions do you have to bring the federal budget into the black?

  • August 15, 2007

    Story Update: Alaskan Pork

    Taxpayers for Common Sense, an earmark watchdog group recently featured on THE JOURNAL, has helped bring to light, with the Associated Press, alleged earmark abuses by prominent Alaskan legislators, Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. From the AP article:

    More than 2,000 projects worth $7.5 billion have gone to Alaska since 2000, says Taxpayers for Common Sense. Alaska received a little over $1 billion in the 2005 highway bill.

    A 2005-2007 study of earmarks by the group showed that Alaska _ ranked 47th in population _ has done far better than other states, when spending is calculated per person. Spending over the three-year period came to $4,311 per person in earmarked projects for Alaskans, while Hawaii was a distant second at $1,812. At the low end were the populous states of Texas, at $98 per person, and New York, $95 per person.

    Part of the difference can be explained by Alaska's special needs, with its remote geography, rough terrain and extreme weather. But the clout of Stevens and Young also has played a huge role.

    According to the AP, some of these 2000 earmark projects included:

    • $500,000 to the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, which used some of these funds to paint a Boeing 737 to look like a Chinook Salmon.
    • $1 million was set aside for mobile computers for police cars in Wasilla, Alaska, which has a population of 6,700.
    • $435,000 went to the Alaska Christian College in 2005, which had several dozen students at the time.

    For an interactive map detailing earmark allocation by state, compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, click here.

    July 27, 2007

    Why Earmarks Matter

    by Ryan Alexander, President of Taxpayers for Common Sense

    At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we believe that the impact of earmarks is greater than the billions of dollars they cost the federal treasury. With a federal budget close to $3 trillion, we know that earmarks are not the only source of government waste. But the earmarking process is a breakdown in democratic decision-making in the Congress. We are putting the unprecedented amount of power to direct billions of dollars of projects in the hands of very small group of legislators and lobbyists. The all-consuming chase for earmarks distracts Congress and takes time away from important policy debates.

    This year alone, there were more than 30,000 requests for earmarks in the House of Representatives – all of which had to be reviewed by staff on the Appropriations Committee. That’s a tremendous amount of effort and time to bring $100,000 for a theater renovation or $150,000 for Robotics Training Equipment at a local community college to a local congressional district. Don’t get me wrong, these and other projects may deserve federal support, but most of us don’t get a chance to ask why these projects are better than others or why they should be funded first before other projects. The lack of a competitive or a meritorious process means that projects may be ignored in favor of those backed by the politically powerful.

    Continue reading "Why Earmarks Matter" »

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