Earmarks are the lifeblood of Washington, providing an avenue for Congress to bypass the executive branch and designate specific blocks of money to go to specific programs or contractors. They are also, as Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) calls them, the "currency of corruption." Earmarks given to defense contractors in exchange for bribes were what brought down now-former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and are creating a mess of trouble for Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) and several other members of Congress.
Beyond corruption, earmarks often take the form of "pork," the taxpayer-funded largess that members of Congress snag to show their constituents how effective they are at bringing home the bacon (a major plank in the primary platform of Sen. Joe Lieberman).
In short, earmarks often aggravate a lot of people of varied political bents, from deficit hawks to citizen muckrakers. However, finding out where the earmarks are actually going has been a historically difficult task—until now.
The Sunlight Foundation, which co-operates Congresspedia with the Center for Media and Democracy, has just developed a group of fancy tools that slice and dice the 2007 appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education to show you who exactly is getting the 1,800 earmarks in that bill. They are enlisting citizen journalists to help them expose the outrageous and the scurrilous in the bill.