Pork barrel technology projects on the rise
The Minnesota school isn't alone. Colleges have become a major destination for technology-related pork, says former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who is now the chairman of FreedomWorks, a nonprofit organization that advocates lower taxes and smaller government.
"Universities oftentimes do research that the public doesn't value enough for it to be self-funding, so they turn to the government," said Armey, a former professor at the University of North Texas. In response, he said, politicians give cash he regards as "nothing but pork that's costing the taxpayer and contributes little to the scientific world."
The process of parceling out pork may be changing, thanks in large part to heightened scrutiny of the cozy relationship between lobbyists and politicians.
Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a California Republican, pleaded guilty in November to accepting at least $2 million in bribes from defense contractors. Jack Abramoff, the famously influential lobbyist with close ties to Republicans, pleaded guilty in January to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
George W. Bush, president, United States
In a news conference at the time, the Department of Justice indicated that a criminal investigation was continuing with Abramoff's cooperation. "The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff is very extensive, and we will continue to follow it wherever it leads," said Alice Fisher, the assistant attorney general for the department's criminal division.Even President Bush, who has never vetoed a spending bill, called for "earmark reform, because the federal budget has too many special-interest projects" in his 2006 State of the Union address.
Two longtime opponents of congressional earmarks, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, introduced legislation in February that's designed to curb the practice.
Called the Pork-Barrel Reduction Act, it would mandate public disclosure of earmarks for at least 48 hours before a vote in Congress, permit them to be eliminated during floor debate and require recipients to disclose how much money they spend on registered lobbyists.
Citizens Against Government Waste's Schatz says he is cautiously optimistic that some reforms will be enacted. "There's a possibility, as opposed to a zero possibility in the past," he said.
Until then, pork will continue to be served up by the barrel. Aspiring lobbyists can even sign up for a March 29 course titled "Earmarks: Everything You Need to Know" offered by TheCapitol.net, a company in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va.
For $495, the course offers advice on "how to make the case" for earmarks and how to respond to "public criticism of 'pork,'" while providing a continuing-education credit from nearby George Mason University.
CNET News.com's Anne Broache contributed to this report.