House Democrats act to ban corporate earmarks

Defense, aerospace firms in Md. liable to feel impact

March 11, 2010|By Paul West | paul.west@baltsun.com

WASHINGTON — — Maryland employers, particularly those in the defense and aerospace industries, could take a hit from an election-year decision Wednesday by House Democrats to ban corporate earmarks in 2010.

In an attempt to contest Republicans for the "reform" mantle, Democratic leaders in the House said they won't approve funding requests for corporate projects this year. Such earmarks are among the most controversial because of the potential for scandal.

House Republicans responded by calling for an end to all earmarks, not just those that go directly to corporations.

House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey of Wisconsin said he hoped the result would be 1,000 fewer earmarks and a weakening of the link between campaign contributions and special-interest spending.

Potentially, millions of dollars in federal spending in Maryland could be affected.

Earmarks are funds set aside for specific projects that circumvent the normal spending process. They have declined in number in recent years and make up a tiny portion of overall federal spending, but still amounted to $15.9 billion in the current fiscal year, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit watchdog group.

Most of Maryland's lawmakers in Washington solicited earmarks during the past year for corporations, many of which were also contributors to their campaigns.

The exceptions were Democratic Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, who sought funds only for nonprofit or governmental projects. In many of those cases, however, private companies ultimately benefited.

A single, year-end spending bill last December contained more than $113 million of requests from the Maryland delegation.

Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, an influential member of the Appropriations Committee, added nearly $10 million for three of her top campaign donors - executives and political action committees of Northrop Grumman, Thales Communications and L-3 Communications.

Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Frederick, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, had $15 million in earmark requests granted, including for Northrop Grumman, one of his largest contributors over the years.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the change was designed to limit the influence of lobbyists and is part of a broader Democratic effort to end "a culture of corruption" in Washington.

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