Rep. John Olver (D-MA) knows this is unseemly. "I am concerned about appearances", he says. After all, he earmarked $5,100,000 for rebuilding a section of West Street, and making a shiny new intersection at Bay Road, in South Amherst. I've driven through construction there several times; they're completely rebuilding the roadway, realigning it as well as repaving.
Rep. Olver is profiled by WaPo along with 32 other legislators who have used their earmarking power to steer money to projects that directly improve the value of their personal property. This is legal and "ethical" according to Congress.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) used $21,500,000 in taxpayer funds to build a bridge from 160 acres of undeveloped land he owns to a popular Nevada resort town. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) was the biggest spender, lavishing $100,000,000 on revitalization of downtown Tuscaloosa, where he owns an office building. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who promised a new era of transparency in government, got $50,000,000 for a new light rail line that could raise property values in an area where her husband owns a building.
Can some of these projects be defended on their merits? No doubt. If representatives really "represent" their areas, shouldn't they also benefit when public works leads to general betterment? Of course.
But why is money being earmarked in Washington? While Pelosi or Olver might know their districts very well, the rest of their chamber does not, and is not prepared to judge which streets in Amherst need to be rebuilt, or which areas of San Francisco are in need of public transit. Each earmark depends on the competence and honesty of a single individual! This is an abrogation of the spirit of our Constitution, a system under which power is diversified in many hands, decisions must be reached by a majority, and no one individual can determine public spending. In order to best direct fundamentally local projects like infrastructure, local bodies should be set up with the purpose of being locally knowledgeable and accountable, and making the necessary tradeoffs between competing local priorities. The differing interests of those on such local boards will better guarantee that each community is well served.
These bodies or boards, of course, already exist. Local government in the U.S. is vested with great power (such as in education), and makes most of the infrastructure funding decisions. For the Federal government to go over their heads and shower a few chosen projects with enormous funding is a shame, and must be stopped.
If you live in one of the 33 constituencies listed in the Post, I encourage you to write your representative. Tell him that you elected him to represent the district, not to govern it. Ask him to leave government to the properly elected authorities. Request that all future funds directed to the district be given as block grants to the relevant localities (or state). Tell him that you trust the institutions of government more so than you trust his personal judgment on how to direct your tax money on a micro level.