The 10 Most Absurd Pork Barrel Spending Items of 2010

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In 2009, millions in tax-payer dollars went to tattoo removal programs, peanut research and water taxi services on Pleasure Beach.

So who got millions in 2010?

Early in his presidency, President Obama publicly urged Congress to cut wasteful spending. But by March 2009, Congress had presented him with a $410 billion stimulus bill that included $7.7 billion in pork -- and he signed it.

So what qualifies as pork spending? Also called earmarks, this type of spending is inserted into generally non-related bills as either an award or incentive for political support from constituents and cohorts. The Oxford English Dictionary distinguishes pork barrel spending from normal appropriation spending as "projects designed to please... and win votes." The term predates the Civil War, when barrels of salt pork were given as rewards for good behavior. The Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has seven criteria for an item to be categorized as pork. The project must fall into one of these categories:

  • Requested by only one chamber of Congress;

  • Not specifically authorized;

  • Not competitively awarded;

  • Not requested by the President;

  • Greatly exceeds the President's budget request or the previous year's funding;

  • Not the subject of congressional hearings; or

  • Serves only a local or special interest.

There is some good news for 2010. According to CAGW, pork barrel spending is down. There was a -10% drop in total earmarks and a -15% decrease in total dollars spent on pork compared to the prior year. Despite the drop, CAGW still identified over 9,000 pork projects costing $16.5 billion.

Without further ado, here are the 10 most absurd earmarks to receive a chunk of the $16.5 billion.

10) $1,000,000 for the Sewall-Belmont House in Washington, D.C. This historical venue is currently used for social events and is the headquarters of the National Women's Party. It was proposed by Senator Mary Landrieu.

9) $250,000 for a wireless area network for the city of Hartselle, Alabama, population 13,888. Proposed by Alabama Representative Robert Aderholt and Senator Richard Shelby.

8)$225,000 for restoration and installation of exhibits at the St. Louis Art Museum Foundation. Proposed by Missouri Senator Kit Bond and Representative William Lacy Clay. The museum's admission is free and has a "...per-capita attendance that is consistently among the highest of our nation's art museums," according to the museum website. It also had a fund balance of $148,434,857 as of December 31, 2007.

7)$2.5 million for potato research. Split between Idaho, Maryland, Maine and Wisconsin, $1.5 million of the cash will go to the competitive potato breeding research program, $700,000 to potato pest management, and $350,000 to the potato cyst nematode special research grant.

6)$500,000 for brown tree snake control and interdiction in Guam. Proposed by Guam delegate Madeleine Bordallo. Since 1996, $15.1 million have been allotted to this slithery cause.

5)$4.8 million for wood utilization research. The Wood Utilization Research Centers (WUR) is a special grant program meant to increase competitiveness, utilize wood to advance energy independence, and "enable sustainability," according to the WUR website. Proposed by representatives from 11 states.

4)$693,000 for beef improvement research in Missouri and Texas. Proposed by Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Texas Representative Ciro Rodriguez. A little digging reveals much of the money went to the Beef Improvement Federation, whose efforts have helped cattle reproduce more frequently and grow faster and more efficiently than their ancestors.

3) $7.2 million to the Harkin Grant Program. Proposed by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. Harkin originally asked for $10 million for his self-titled program benefiting Iowa's public schools

2)$7 million to the Robert C. Byrd Institute of Advanced Flexible Manufacturing systems. Proposed by the late Senator Robert C. Byrd. Apparently heading the Appropriations Committee allows for carte blanche power to, well, yourself. (CAGW gave both Harkin and late West Virginia Senator Byrd the "Narcissist Award" in their "Most Wasteful" race).

1) $17 million for the International Fund for Ireland (IFI). According to information on IFI's website, the program was established in 1986 to promote economic and social advance between nationalists and unionists throughout Ireland. Interestingly enough, in 2009 former Irish Ambassador to the United States Sean Donlon called the current political and security situation in Northern Ireland "stable."

Please note that these are not necessarily the most expensive pieces of pork barrel spending. Anonymous projects represent more than 50% of the cost of earmarks -- $6 billion was allocated to 35 anonymous projects in the Defense Appropriations Act alone.

Anonymous, in pork jargon, means that no one claimed sponsorship or authorship. This way, personal responsibility may be eluded. That's $6 billion allotted to reward constituents, but no one to publicly announce a gracious, "Thank you for your support. Please enjoy this cash."

Understand you may always contact your representative to tell them how you feel about the way they spend your tax dollars. You can find out who represents you here .

To learn more about Citizens Against Government Waste, visit their website here .

If you're still in the mood for government largess, click here to check out one of our most popular articles, The Five Wealthiest Members of Congress .


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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