Nonprofits that rely on Congress for earmarks (D.C. lingo for legislation in which money is slated for a specific recipient) have to hope their sponsor stays out of trouble lest their government grant be put in jeopardy.The Hill newspaper, which covers Capitol Hill, notes that the Kenai River Sportfishing Association has secured $4.5 million in taxpayer dollars between 2004 and 2006 for research on salmon in Alaska’s Kenai River. In 2005, according to its tax returns, it had revenues of some $846,000, of which $528,000 came from federal grants. The Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, group A Child Is Missing helps law enforcement locate missing persons, and it is counting on Congress to pass legislation that will send $100,000 its way. It had 2006 revenue of $828,000, of which $684,000 came from government grants.
The Hill says these funds are at risk because their sponsors are in trouble. The sponsor of the sportfishing group’s funding is Alaska senator Ted Stevens. The National Legal and Policy Center charges that Stevens has created the appearance of “using his official position to financially benefit a group run by an individual who had cut him in on an investment which was paying spectacular returns.” The individual is a Stevens friend and political contributor who is on the sportfishing group’s board. Stevens denies there is any quid pro quo. A Child Is Missing could lose its grant because its principal sponsor is Senator Larry Craig who is expected to resign soon. There are no charges of misconduct alleged against the group.
Congressional earmarks for special interest groups have soared in recent years and only in recent years have their corrupting effects come under scrutiny. The Hill reports that the House of Representatives has gotten the message and has cut in half the number of pet projects it distributes to its members. But the Senate continues to write earmarks into its legislation, sneaking 4486 projects worth $7.4 billion into appropriations bills. Under Republican rule the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee was Ted Stevens. The current chairman is West Virginia’s Robert Byrd.