"Never try to teach manners to a pig," advises an old country saying – "it wastes your time, and it annoys the pig."

“Never try to teach manners to a pig,” advises an old country saying – “it wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.”

The same could be said of trying to teach basic ethics to our congress critters. Among the worst misbehavers in our Congressional pig pen are some senior members of the appropriations committee, both Republicans and Democrats. They have a bad habit of taking campaign contributions from corporations, then secretly slipping special grants of taxpayer money – called “earmarks” – to those very same corporations.

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Consider the case of PMA, a powerhouse lobbying firm that specializes in getting lucrative earmarks for corporations doing business with the Pentagon. In March of 2008, PMA’s clients and lobbyists gave nearly $50,000 to Rep. Pete Visclosky, an Indiana Democrat who sits on the defense Appropriations Committee. One week after Pete’s fundraising event, he requested $14 million in earmarks for PMA’s clients.

Let’s see – $50,000 in, $14 million out. Wow, what a sweet deal for the corporations, lobbyists, and Visclosky. For us taxpayers and advocates for good manners, however – hmmm, not so sweet.

Of course, the house ethics committee – made up of Visclosky’s bipartisan colleagues – investigated this ethical ugliness. Its conclusion: “Simply because a member sponsors an earmark for an entity that also happens to be a campaign contributor does not, on these two facts alone, support a claim that a member’s actions are being influenced by campaign contributions.”

Thank God this committee is not in charge of something important – like, for example, the fire department – for they’d say: “go back to sleep, for flames are not cause for alarm.” To fight the continuing embarrassment of earmarks, connect with Common Cause:

“Finally, They’re Embarrassed,” The New York Times, March 12, 2010.

“Earmark Bazaar,” The Washington Post, March 12, 2010.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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