David Freddoso: Marion Barry belongs in Congress, not in jail 

To see former D.C. Mayor and City Councilman Marion Barry treated as a petty thief in Special Counsel Robert Bennett’s new report is a true disappointment. The Bennett Report details Barry’s earmarks for shady charitable organizations he and his staff established.

It expounds upon contracts he drew up for his D.C. cronies. It details possible kickbacks from his office contracts. It recommends a criminal investigation.

A more appropriate recommendation would be that Barry run for Congress. He’d fit right in.

In Congress, as the recently departed Rep. Jack Murtha’s, D-Pa., career demonstrated, it is part of the job to reward cronies, family and former staff, and to dole out earmarks. Even if few congressmen literally drive contractors to the bank and demand a cut from their checks (as Barry allegedly did), they effectively do the same when they take make-work jobs from the same companies they’ve spent their careers subsidizing through earmarks and newly created big-government programs.

Members of Congress also have the option to sell their votes in ways that shore up their current jobs. Such palm-greasing was responsible for whatever success President Barack Obama’s recent health bill enjoyed.

The so-called Louisiana purchase, by which Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., received $300 million in Medicaid funding for her state in exchange for her vote, was followed by half a dozen other Congressional demands for perks, including that of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. All had to be satisfied before Obamacare got its 60 Senate votes.

Last year in the House, Midwestern Democrats dropped objections to a costly carbon rationing scheme only after they had obtained a deal that nearly exempted their own states’ polluting power plants.

This goes to the heart of what’s wrong with congressional pork. It’s not just that it costs money, increases budget baselines, demonstrates disrespect for the taxpayer, and makes possible the behavior of Barry and of former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif. (now in prison because he went too far by literally trading his vote for a boat).

Pork also greases the skids for terrible legislation. Bad small bills, like the so-called Cornhusker Kickback and other special deals, enable bad large bills like Obamacare and cap-and-trade.

Nearly every appropriations bill is riddled with smaller deals, many of which go unnoticed. As a result, taxpayers’ money is funneled to the politically connected on the national and local level.

Millions are poured into swimming pools, mind-bogglingly stupid university studies (imagine that: alcohol makes mice dizzy!), and museums commemorating cowgirls, baseball and rock ’n’ roll. Federal money goes toward tennis courts, to control flies in farm stables, and to local Audubon societies.

I won’t even bring up the infamous “bridge to nowhere.” We find new examples of this every day at The Examiner.

For every stupid little project you read about — and there are thousands — you can be sure that you’re not just wasting money; someone in Congress also sold his vote to get it and hurt you by supporting a bad underlying bill.

So take it easy on Marion Barry. His brand of fiscal mismanagement is chump change. As he put it, “I ran to get resources, to uplift the people of Ward 8.”

And second, the next time you see your congressman at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a pork project, don’t think about what a great guy he is for bringing a few million dollars back home with him. Ask instead what he had to do to get it — how he sold you out, diminished your freedom, impoverished your children — so that he could selfishly take credit for bringing your own money back to your town.

David Freddoso is The Examiner’s online opinion editor.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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