Inconsistency Is Hallmark of Senate Earmark Disclosures

Posted May 19, 2009 at 2:34pm

A review of Senators’ earmark request disclosures shows that while most lawmakers who direct funding to specific projects may be technically complying with the Senate’s disclosure rules, a lack of uniformity in how they are reported makes it difficult to obtain an accurate picture.Under new earmark rules adopted by Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss), lawmakers requesting earmarks are required to post them on their official Senate Web site.However, the new rules do not include any standards for where the earmarks should be posted, the format they should be posted in — or even if they are to be called earmarks at all.As a result, the Senate now has a patchwork of file formats, locations and other individual quirks that make it difficult to find — and in some cases read — the earmarks, according to separate analyses conducted by Roll Call and the watchdog group Sunlight Foundation.For instance, neither review was able to locate earmark request listings for a handful of Senators — including Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill). The Sunlight Foundation was able to locate earmark requests on the Web site of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), but only when using a special Google search function and not through simple navigation of the site.Additionally, at least two senior members of the Senate Appropriations Committee — one Democrat and one Republican — included complete lists of requests, as well as links to those requests, only after being contacted by Roll Call.The format used by lawmakers to disclose their requests also varies widely. While some lawmakers use easily searchable PDF files linked on their sites, others use poor-quality pictures of the actual requests. Some, like Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), used other methods, such as posting a series of press releases on her earmark requests.