Letters to the editor: Response to "The Favor Factory"
October 17, 2007
Representatives endorse deposits of our money to tip in their favor
Editor, The Times:
The earmarking practice enumerated in "Favor factory" [Times special report Oct. 14] is an exposure of obscene "legal" bribery.
The difference between an outright "agreed-to" bribe and an "understood that it will happen" bribe is minute, unethical and immoral, if not illegal. Worse yet, these members of Congress are circumventing the military procurement practices, claiming they have better knowledge of military requirements than the Pentagon, with a resulting procurement of unwanted weapons or items. A total waste of taxpayer money.
Preservation of local jobs is not an acceptable justification for the practice. It amounts to the worst kind of featherbedding. Supporting local businesses in their quest to sell products to the military is appropriate when the product fulfills an established military requirement and is in the competitive-bid practices of the Pentagon. It is not appropriate when it forces the military to spend its budget on source-directed, unnecessary items with the resulting convenience of a magically appearing political donation.
Isn't it interesting how earmarks in favor of Guardian Marine International started out with two local congressmen, one year later to be joined by a senator, and then two years later joined by our second senator. Kind of smacks of "this is a good deal, get on board."
Unfortunately, it seems that many of our elected officials are crooks. They go into Congress with little to their name and come out millionaires. How does that happen?
It is time to vote out the incumbents; they are too embedded in the system. Also time to reincarnate term limits.
— Bob Kilian, Bellevue
The joint savings
The $3 billion (2006) of directed appropriations that Congress earmarks each year without scrutiny can be controlled by adopting a modest proposal:
Provide legislators with discretionary spending authority, say $500,000 to congressmen and $1 million to senators. Then by House and Senate rule, accept only (a) appropriations that have received full committee consideration; or (b) appropriations made under each representative's discretionary spending authority.
This procedure would limit discretionary appropriations to about $300 million per year. Compared with the 2006 record, that would be a small price to pay for fiscal accountability!
— Charles Bookman, Seattle
Gift with free account
Congratulations, and my thanks, for "Favor factory," the front-page article on earmarks.
Another door opened when the Washington Supreme Court ruled that political lying is allowed as free speech.
— Bill Griffin, Shoreline
October 18, 2007
Meanwhile, in Iraq, what's not force-fed goes wanting
Editor, The Times:
Your well-researched special report, "The favor factory" [Times page one, Oct. 14], regarding the wasteful earmarking of flawed military projects, is proof that true investigative journalism still lives.
Washington Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, Reps. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, and others should be remembered for this during our next elections. They put a higher value on increasing their own campaign funding than on the safety of our front-line troops by forcing our military to spend its budget dollars (our tax money) on projects the military did not want or need.
This money could have been spent on the purchase of improved vehicular and body armor to reduce the number of our boys killed and maimed while fighting for America.
I suggest that, in future elections, your readers support candidates who work for what is best for America rather than what is best for their campaign funds.
One would hope that eye-opening reports such as this will get more widespread coverage.
Keep up the good work.
— Norman Christie (lt. col., U.S. Army [ret.]), Port Hadlock
We must watch their weight
I was heartened a bit to see "The favor factory: $4.5 million for a boat that nobody wanted." Even our esteemed national senators have their fingers in this particular pie.
And while it's easy to point fingers at the various participants in this and the many other similar bridges-to-nowhere stories that abound, if you look at the larger picture, it seems to me that the only conclusion you can draw here is that true campaign-finance reform is a must. And the only viable form must include some kind of publicly financed campaigns, such as that which has been in effect in Arizona and Maine through several election cycles and is working well.
Public-financing bills introduced into the Washington Legislature consistently die in committee, never seeing the light of open debate. Granted, this is understandable: Those in power have a workable system that affords them the money they need to stay in power. To revert to this unfamiliar process is seen as a threat to their own positions.
But as democracy as we have traditionally known it continues to sink under the weight of big money (and if you think it is not, do I have a bridge to sell you), we must find a more tenable answer to funding our elections.
Contact your representatives, local and national, urging them to support legislation allowing public financing of campaigns.
— Gary Carver, board member, Washington Public Campaigns [washclean.org], Marshall
After reading "The favor factory," I was disgusted with our democratic representatives, the earmark process, and the solutions proposed. I was particularly frustrated with Seattle Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott's support of government-funded congressional campaigns and his statement, "This is a country that worships at the altar of the free-enterprise system, and so the Congress is reflective of that culture."
How do earmarks have anything to do with the free-enterprise system? This is the opposite of free enterprise: companies getting large government contracts without having to compete in the free market.
This is a case of politicians blaming systematic failure in an attempt to cover their own dishonest practices. Does anybody actually think giving politicians taxpayer money to run their campaigns will make them more honest?
The solution is not government-funded congressional campaigns and definitely not shunning the "free-enterprise system." The solution is simple: Vote for new candidates who will take a stand against dishonestly giving no-bid contracts to companies that support their campaigns.
— Matthew McCleary, Seattle
October 21, 2007
Can it compete against the dollar?
Editor, The Times:
Do you suppose Will Rogers might have had congressional earmarks in mind when he said, "We have the best Congress money can buy"?
Only a certified cynic would believe that our esteemed congressional members would ever think, even for a moment, that using their power and influence on behalf of wealthy constituents and their firms might possibly then result in very generous contributions to their campaign war chests. Why, perish the thought! ["The favor factory," Times special report, page one, Oct. 14.]
However, it does make me wonder how diligent congressional members would be in their altruistic justifications about pursuing earmarks to "help the local economy" if the recipients of said earmarks announced beforehand that not one dime in campaign contributions would be forthcoming.
My guess is that we'll never have a chance to find out. But as my grandfather was often heard to say, "The first interest of politicians is looking after the interests of politicians."
— Lee Fowble, Edmonds
The American auction
The last bid against political patronage is in voters' hands
"The favor factory," The Times' exposé of the insidious influence of special-interest money on our elected officials, summed it up perfectly: "Congressional favors and campaign giving go hand in hand." That's a multibillion-dollar problem for taxpayers. And the solution? Let the public — not special interests — pay for elections. It has worked statewide in Maine and Arizona and locally in other states, and the advantages for the average voter and taxpayer has been well-documented.
Yet there are those who oppose this way of financing elections. First, it would cost too much. According to "The favor factory," earmarks cost the taxpayer $51 billion in 2005. That's $17 for each man, woman and child. Maine and Arizona fund their elections at about $5 per person. So do the math: It costs voters more than three times what it would cost if the country had public-funded elections and got rid of the earmarks.
Second, voters object that they don't want their tax money to go to help their candidate's opponent. Well, the opponent's supporters are paying for your candidate, so it's a wash.
Let's just wise up and stop this out-of-control system.
— Robert Stern, Seattle
The buyers' premium
It will never happen that Congress will give up earmarks. They are too useful as a bribe to constituents and a reward to campaign contributors. What we can do is keep them under control. Let's pass the Earmark Reduction Bill.
Right now, earmarks come to more than $50 billion. The Earmark Reduction Bill I propose would cap the amount of earmarks at $20 billion, to be equally divided between Senate and House.
Another provision of the Earmark Reduction Act would allow members of Congress to trade or combine each of their earmarks for whatever purpose, but there would be no year-to-year rollover allowed.
Members of Congress would no longer have a reason to conceal their involvement in earmarks. Earmarks would simply be part of the federal budget.
This proposal seems eminently fair to me, but I predict howls of protest. Still, I have just shown how to save the government $30 billion a year. Not bad for an amateur.
— Robert Meltzer, Kirkland
October 24, 2007
Thank you for "The favor factory" [special report, page one, Oct. 14], the revealing article about members of Congress who receive campaign contributions from businesses whose products they promote for government purchase.
The saddest thing is the mostly military products [promoted] were so useless, at a time when our service-people were in serious need of updated equipment.
"The favor factory" underscored the real need to move toward publicly financed elections. Yes, I know, we shouldn't have to pay people to run. But if we (taxpayers/voters) don't do it, somebody else will, somebody with something to gain, as evidenced by The Times' report.
I believe people start out running for public office out of a genuine desire to serve, to make things better. But before long, the money chase takes over. Even if a candidate turns down a proffered donation, the donor will simply support his/her opponent.
Through publicly financed elections, we can return control of the process to us, the people.
— Elsie Simon, Seattle
October 28, 2007
I was interested to see The Times publish such a laudatory feature about the Democratic representative, Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, with only a mild word of criticism, and that was about earmarks ["Stormin' Norman," Joni Balter editorial column, Oct. 21]. Remarkable, since he was mentioned somewhat prominently in "The favor factory" [special report, page one, Oct. 14], about earmarks and corporate campaign contributions.
Perhaps the explanation for the rosy picture and lack of criticism of Dicks' tenure has something to do with his 2005 vote in favor of the not-so-free/foreign-trade bill, CAFTA. This bill, roundly denounced by labor, environmental and human-rights advocates, passed by two votes. The 15 Democrats who voted to pass this bill were feted by the National Association of Manufacturers and received campaign contributions from several large corporations.
Bringing home the bacon is certainly a Democratic principle, but, unlike the late Sen. Warren Magnuson who was a strong friend to labor and consumer protectionism, Dicks' principles are not entirely Democratic.
— Mary Ann Leskie, Tacoma
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.