The Washington Post just released an investigation of federal disclosure forms and local public records that reveal how members of Congress direct tax dollars to institutions that employ or are owned by their spouses or immediate family members.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., is one of nearly 50 lawmakers who have diverted $300 million in taxpayer money to organizations with familial ties. In Inhofe’s case, the cause is road improvement, and he says funding it will benefit Oklahoma’s economy.
“Inhofe’s wife, through a family company, co-owns a commercial property in Owasso, on the edge of Tulsa,” the Post reported. “The office building sits on a local road near U.S. 169. Since 2008, Inhofe has helped secure about $1.8 million in earmarks to study the widening of the road, including the stretch that passes near his wife’s property. An Inhofe spokesman said local officials requested the earmarks and the widening ‘is a highly beneficial project that will create new jobs and do much to strengthen Oklahoma’s economy.’”
The full statement, provided by Inhofe spokesman Matt Dempsey, reads:
Senator Inhofe works hand in hand with state and local Oklahoma leaders to advocate for projects that will bring the highest benefits to Oklahoma, and makes these proposals publically available by posting them on his Senate website. The widening of US 169 in Owasso is no different; it is a highly beneficial project that will create new jobs and do much to strengthen Oklahoma’s economy.
“Several of the cases have received previous media attention, raised by local newspapers or campaign opponents, but the practice has continued unabated,” the Post reported.
A year ago, the Tulsa World published an editorial supporting Inhofe’s earmarks.
“Inhofe insists that the money directed to earmarks would be spent anyway, but by nameless, faceless bureaucrats who aren’t answerable to any local constituency,” the World’s staff writers wrote. “We agree with Inhofe’s stance and hope he is successful in obtaining more funding for Oklahoma water projects. The simple truth is that if it weren’t for the efforts of leaders like Inhofe and the others who are willing to advance earmarks, less populous states like Oklahoma would never get needed help on these fronts.” The World cited Inhofe’s successful efforts, in 2007, “to obtain authorization for up to $50 million for ecosystem restoration, recreation and flood damage reduction components of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan” as proof.
“Members of Congress have more leeway than executive branch officials or individuals in publicly held companies, who operate under stricter conflict-of-interest rules that generally prevent them from taking actions that might benefit businesses or institutions where their relatives work,” the Post reported.
“Although members of Congress declared a two-year moratorium on earmarks last year, efforts to insert targeted spending provisions into bills continue… Before the moratorium went into effect, the ability of lawmakers to earmark tax dollars to specific programs and geographic locations was one of their most cherished political prerogatives.”
—Holly Wall, News Editor