Democrats lead $9 billion pork barrel spree through revived earmarking process

With 3,682 earmarks in $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill compared to 1,014 for Republicans, Democrats snag 50% more taxpayer dollars for home state projects.

Updated: April 9, 2022 - 11:11pm

This week's GH goes to the U.S. Congress — especially the Democrats controlling both chambers — for pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into lawmakers' pet projects through the revived process of earmarking. 

A total of 4,975 earmarks worth over $9 billion combined were funded in the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill passed in March and signed by President Biden, the Associated Press reported.

While lawmakers in both parties collected billions in earmarks for their home states, Democrats' projects cost 50% more than those of Republicans. 

The omnibus spending bill approved $5.1 billion in earmarks (now formally euphemized as "member-directed spending") for Democrats, $3.4 billion for Republicans and $600 million for bipartisan sponsored projects. 

Democrats had 3,682 earmarks compared to 1,014 for Republicans, an analysis by the New York Times showed. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer topped the list for number of earmarks with a total of 203 projects worth a whopping $314 million.

His projects included $27 million to upgrade water systems at upstate New York's Fort Drum and $23 million for hospitals, violence prevention and other programs in Brooklyn, his home borough, the AP reported. 

Schumer also secured $2.75 million for the "Chemung Center for Innovation" at Waverly Central School District and $1.97 million for a Family YMCA in Plattsburgh, a review of Senate appropriations records by Just The News shows.

Oregon Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkeley came in second after Schumer in the number of projects funded, with the pair raking in a total of $173.3 million for 149 projects for their state. 

Documents reviewed by JTN show the Democratic senators got $4.87 million for Ochoco Irrigation District Watershed projects; $2.5 million for East Fork Irrigation Modernization; $50K for a fossil library; and $50K for broadband solar trailers, among other pet projects.

While the three Democratic senators earned the dubious distinction of having the most home state projects funded, four Republicans and one Democrat came in the top five in the funding amounts they received for their earmarks.

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby came in first in total funding for his approximately 16 earmarks. The retiring senator amassed $648 million for his state.

Documents reviewed by JTN show Shelby secured $13.2 million for Alabama State Port Authority Facilities and Improvement; $76 million for University of Alabama Heersink School of Medicine facilities improvement; and $60 million for the University of South Alabama College of Medicine to expand research facilities.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) secured second place for the amount of funding appropriated for his pet projects, securing $337 million in funding

Graham's pet projects included $9.4 million for a Southern Coastal Biodiversity project; $8 million for a "Water Plant Alum Sludge Dewatering Facility; and $2.5 million for a sewer expansion project in the city of Aiken, according to records.

Taxpayers for Common Sense reported that Senate Labor-HHS-Education ranking member Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) placed third in funding for earmarks, snagging $265 million, and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski came in fourth, reaping almost $225 million.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, Senate Appropriations Chairman, came in fifth as he nabbed 79 earmarks worth $162.2 million, according to The Hill.

Some of the most egregiously wasteful projects, as Americans for Tax Reform found, include:

  • $3,000,000 for the "Palo Alto History Museum." which will "showcase the legacy of innovation and remarkable heritage that are unique to Palo Alto";
  • $142,500 for Las Vegas bike-share bikes;
  • $800,000 for "artist lofts" in Pomona, Calif.;
  • $3,000,000 for a Gandhi museum in Texas
  • $496,000 for a local swimming pool in Yonkers, N.Y.;
  • $3,200,000 for a local bike path in Rhode Island;
  • $2,000,000 for "Reducing Inequity in Access to Solar Power" in Delaware;
  • $2,000,000 for new soccer fields in Anaheim, Calif.;
  • $500,000 for a ski jump in New Hampshire;
  • $488,000 for the township of North Bergen, NJ for "Municipal Traffic Calming";
  • $750,000 for a baseball field in Lowell, Mass.;
  • $209,000 for a "Creative Village Affordable Housing and Studio Complex for Artists" in Decatur, Ga.;
  • $1.1 million for "Soccer Complex Facility Improvements" in Rhode Island;
  • $1.6 million for "Equitable Growth of Shellfish Aquaculture Industry in Rhode Island."

"With $1 trillion+ annual deficits projected as far as the eye can see, Congress needs to get our fiscal house in order," Joshua Sewell, senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, told JTN. 

"One concern we have with the return of earmarks is that they consume a lot of time and effort for lawmakers and staff," Sewell explained. "Every moment a lawmaker or their staff spends fielding constituent requests, vetting those requests, and lobbying the appropriations committee for their request, is a moment they don't get to spend on finding fiscally sustainable solutions to our nation's pressing needs. It's important for Congress to ensure earmarks don't take away from some of these bigger picture issues. 

"Another major concern is earmarks too often skirt competitive, merit, or formula-based ways Congress has established to distribute our limited tax dollars. This can create a two-tiered funding system in programs. One where communities that are wealthy, savvy, or politically connected enough to secure funding through earmarks can jump the line ahead of the rest of us who are left to compete for a smaller piece of the pie."