Congressional Pet Projects —Earmarks— Cost Taxpayers $16 Billion in 2023

how much are earmarks
Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

By Adam Andrzejewski for RealClearInvestigations

In 2021, earmarks returned to Congress. The practice was banned for a decade due to its tendency to fuel corruption, but has since been embraced on a bipartisan basis, leading to extraordinary spending on thousands of pet projects across the country. Open the Books mapped $16 billion worth of earmarks across 7,509 projects in FY2023, and found rampant waste and abuse.

Earmarks are special grants that lawmakers can give directly to constituents or organizations in their districts or states. While rules have changed slightly for the next fiscal year, in FY 2023, House members were allowed 15 earmarks that in total couldn’t exceed more than 1% of net discretionary spending. The Senate had the same 1% cap across the board, but no limit per member.

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Open the Books found broad bipartisanship in doling out earmarks. Of the top ten earmarkers, seven were Republicans, and the top three earmarked $1.66 billion. Republicans out-earmarked their Democrat colleagues in 21 states.

There was plenty of waste in FY2023 earmarks, like $5M to the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, $2M for the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, $1 million for a splashpad in Michigan, and $1 million for the Macadamia Nut Health Initiative.

Open the Books also found some shocking conflicts of interest in earmarks, including $30 million earmarked by retiring U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy to the University of Vermont Honors College. In May, the university renamed the college after Leahy.

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Earmarks have been labeled the “currency of corruption” for a reason, and while Republicans have claimed to reform the process for the next fiscal year, Congress needs to go further and eliminate this wasteful practice entirely like it did in 2011.

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