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From the American LGBTQ+ Museum to a struggling rail transit plan, members of Congress secured $16 billion in earmarks for initiatives in their respective districts for fiscal year 2023, a new report from Open The Books says.
An interactive map from Open The Books breaks down the projects, amounts allocated, and the politicians who requested the funds by state.
Earmarks, which were banned in 2011, became legal again in 2021 with bipartisan support to reinstate the practice, a move that Open The Books CEO Adam Andrzejewski compared to “opening a bar tab for a bunch of alcoholics.”
“By definition, Congress is picking winners and goofing up the marketplace with highly dislocating favors,” he continued.
According to the report, “Earmarks allow federal legislators to set aside specific sums of money for local projects in their states or districts. Earmarks help members of Congress ‘bring home the bacon.’”
The $16 billion sum includes $3 million for the New York Historical Society’s effort to create the American LGBTQ+ Museum, located in Rep. Jerry Nadler’s (D-NY) district. President and CEO of the New York Historical Society Louise Mirrer thanked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Nadler for their assistance in securing the funding.
Another $2 million will go toward the “National Great Blacks in Wax” museum in Baltimore, Maryland, in Rep. Kweisi Mfume’s (D-MD) district. A wax figure of Mfume, the former president of the NAACP, stands at the museum, as do figures of Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr.
There’s also the Universal Hip Hop Museum, located in the Bronx, which will receive $5 million in federal funding attained by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Schumer, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY).
“With the 50th anniversary of hip hop right around the corner, I am proud to have secured funds to help the Universal Hip Hop Museum celebrate everything that is beautiful about hip hop culture,” Gillibrand stated.
Meanwhile, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) secured $64 million for the Honolulu Rail Transit Project. The projected costs have more than doubled from the initial estimate of $5.12 billion to $12.45 billion since local officials signed the agreement with the Federal Transit Administration in 2012. The project is now projected to be completed by March 2031, 11 years later than first agreed upon.
Columbia University, which has an endowment of $13.3 billion, received nearly $3 million in federal funds to create a climate action plan addressing water quality. The funding was approved by Rep. Jerry Nadler, who attended the institution.
Outgoing Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) earmarked $100 million and $30 million, respectively, to the University of Alabama and the University of Vermont, which will hold each senator’s Congressional papers. Both schools are also creating programs named after the politicians who secured the funding.
Several lawmakers even secured earmarks for institutions that employ their spouses. Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) tapped $750,000 for the University of Redlands, his alma mater. Aguilar’s wife works for the private university as an operations support director in student financial services. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) secured $1.84 million for Adventist Health St. Helena, a hospital that employs his wife. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) sponsored nearly $3.5 million for George Mason University, where his wife is a professor.
The report also notes that Democrats earmarked $9.1 billion compared to $6.4 billion by Republicans. However, it also points out that Congressional Republicans “out-earmarked their Democratic colleagues in 21 states” and that “seven of the top ten Members of Congress who earmarked the most were Senate Republicans.”