Who Has the Juice? Colorado Companies Get Congressionally Earmarked Funds

Nineteen private Colorado companies received congressionally earmarked contract funding totaling $54.3 million in fiscal year 2005, according to a report released in late April by the federal Office of Management and Budget.

Many of  those companies in turn donated about $176,000 to Colorado federal legislators during the election cycle.Earmarks are funds provided by Congress in legislation to do an end run around the merit-based or competitive bidding process used for award most federal contracts and work. A congressman or senator directs in budget legislation that the funds are to be spent by an agency with a specific company.

The Colorado companies that received earmarked funds in FY 2005 were:

Environmental Chemical Corp. $1,000,000
Lockheed Martin  $18,900,000
AMI Industries $3,100,000
Pathfinder Technology $1,247,000
Northrop Grumman $2,500,000
Otologics LLC  $1,466,000
Microanalysis and Design $5,489,000
Navigant Biotechnologies $1,916,000
Composite Technology Development, Inc. $1,953,000
Starsys, Inc.  $1,464,000
NAVSYS Corp. $3,177,000
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation $3,401,000
Coherent Technologies  $1,965,000
ITN Energy Systems  $976,000
Pure Vision  $1,488,000
Vehicle Projects LLC $992,000
Community Power Corp. $2,976,000
incentaHEALTH, LLC  $35,000
CH2M Hill  $250,000

It’s virtually impossible to tell who places earmarks in federal spending bills. Even OMB threw up its hands at that problem, saying, “This database is not designed, and cannot accurately be used, to identify the individual congressional sponsors of earmarks.”

Earmarks are sometimes the pet project of a member of Congress, who has been convinced by a company or the company’s lobbyist to include the funds in the budget. Unless a member sends out a press release, the only way to find out whether he or she sponsored an earmark is to ask them. We’ve asked several members of the Colorado delegation about this.

Earmarks have come under harsh scrutiny in Congress and elsewhere, especially since former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R.-Calif.) was convicted of accepting bribes to steer money to defense companies.

In his State of the Union Address in January, President George Bush called for reducing congressional earmarks:

In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of the earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and the Senate; they’re dropped into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk.

You didn’t vote them into law. I didn’t sign them into law. Yet they are treated as if they have the force of law. The time has come to end this practice.

So let us work together to reform the budget process, expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress, and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session.

Ronald Utt, an economist at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, says:

“It gets to the matter of who has the juice and who doesn’t. More and more people are discovering that merit has nothing to do with it. It’s about getting to know the congressman, or his son, or his staff, or the lobbyist who has access to him.”

Utt says, “Most of these things aren’t done on merit. All the normal channels by which federal money goes out to do things have decided that the project is not worth it.”

It’s important to note, though, that there is nothing illegal about the typical earmark. This is a time-honored way of directing funding to a legislator’s home district. Most legislators defend the practice to one degree or another.

Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesman for Rep. Mark Udall, said, for instance:

Congressman Udall “is not against earmarks if they are important to Colorado, and the defense mission in general, and it has a strong role in national defense systems. Not everyone who comes to the office gets a request honored. There is a high mark that they have to reach.

“Because there is a certian amount of money set aside for earmarking, Udall is going to do what he can to make sure that Colorado gets some of those dollars. Colorado businesses play an important role. If we weren’t to request them, they would go to another district or another state and Colorado would lose out.”

Pacheco adds that Udall supported recent efforts to make earmarks more transparent, including attaching the names of the legislators who request them to the bill.

Republican Sen. Wayne Allard has been an outspoken critic of wasteful spending, but he, too, sees a legitimate role for earmaking, according to spokesman Steve Wymer:

“His opinion on earmarks is that, while unnecessary spending is abhorent, congressional earmarks are an opportunity for Congress to do their job. It’s much better for Congress to identify high priority projects than to give agencies billions of dollars and say, ‘Here you go.'”

The FY 2005 legislation covered by the OMB report was passed by the 108th Congress. The Colorado delegation at the time consisted of: Sens. Wayne Allard (R) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R); Reps. Diana Degette (D); Mark Udall, (D); Scott McInnis (R); Marilyn Musgrave (R); Joel Hefley (R); Tom Tancredo (R); and Bob Beauprez (R).

The campaign donations from companies that received earmarks went to (from highest to lowest in amounts): Allard, $48,800; Udall, $48,350; Beauprez, $40,326; Campbell, $18,000; Tancredo, $15,950; DeGette, $15,250; Hefley, $8,050; Musgrave, $6,000; and McInnis, $500.

The largest single earmarks were in Rep. Tom Tancredo’s district, two different items to Lockheed Martin for Air Force procurement, one for $14 million and another for $4.9 million. Lockheed — either its political action committee or individuals associated with the company —  donated a total of  $68,000 to various members of the delegation in the two election cycles prior to the earmarks cited here. The donations included $8,000 to Tancredo, $13,000 to Wayne Allard and $17,000 to Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

But measuring by individual earmarks, Rep. Mark Udall’s district got the most activity with six of the seventeen companies collecting a total of $15.7 million in earmarked federal contracts. One company was a subsidiary of Lockheed. Udall received $11,000 in campaign contributions from Lockheed over the period.

As of the time of this writing, neither Allard’s nor Tancredo’s offices had claimed credit (or blame, as the case may be) for any of the individual Colorado earmarks.

But according to Udall spokesman Pacheco, only three of the earmarks in Udall’s district were sponsored by the congressman.  They were:

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