I have been discussing the ban on earmarks proposed by many in the new House and also by some in the Senate. Some leaders in the Senate are in opposition however and I believe they are making a serious mistake in taking this position. While discussing this subject with some friends it became apparent that there is a lot of confusion about just what constitutes this cost which is hidden from most taxpayers, so here is a definition of an earmark.
An earmark is an item that is inserted into a bill to direct funds to a specific project or recipient without any public hearing or review. One of the problems is that there is no transparency or accountability in the system.
U.S. Congressional members can secure hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for a project without subjecting it to debate by their colleagues in the Congress, or to the scrutiny and oversight of the public. Because earmarks are hard to identify, some members use them to secretly award their biggest campaign contributors or exchange them for bribes. The secrecy of the earmarking process invites unethical and corrupt behavior, where lobbyists and contractors and well-connected individuals give campaign contributions to legislators in return for federal funding.
Generally the more powerful members of the U.S. Congress get more earmarks. Members of the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate are in the best position to secure earmarks. They can insert them into spending bills during closed committee meetings, with no public scrutiny. Earmarks are also offered to members to entice them to vote for a bill they otherwise might not vote for.