Earmarks, the Helms way.

Somebody recently shared this letter-to-the-editor in The Wall Street Journal by Wayne Boyles, a former coworker during my Capitol Hill days:

Rep. Mark Walker is correct (“GOP Maps a Road to Nowhere in November,” op-ed, Jan. 16. If Senate and House Republicans allow for the resumption of earmarks, they will be turned out of Congress and spend many years in the political wilderness. As a Senate staffer who worked for over two decades in that chamber, dealing with earmarks was a royal pain. They were a large distraction in the appropriations process, drove up spending and in more cases than not were out of sync with federal programming. Earmarks were wants, not needs.

In Sen. Jesse Helms’s office, where I worked, we asked every requester to go to a private-sector financial institution first because they would be dealing with a lot fewer people and they would, in many, many cases, get their funds faster if there was financial and economic justification. We asked them do you really want to go through a process where your funding committee would have 535 House and Senate members, plus staff. Private-sector funding is always the best place to go.

Additionally, House and Senate appropriation committees always got first dibs, and if your member wasn’t on the committee, he or she would get the leftovers. Constituent groups would hire expensive lobbyists to help them secure an earmark, and their overhead costs would be greater in some instances than the amount they sought.

I hope Senate and House Republicans will follow Rep. Walker’s advice.