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This timely, provocative, and highly-readable book challenges the widely held view that congressional appropriation earmarks are necessarily illegitimate, corrupt, or corrupting.  The Founders of the American republic invested the power of the purse in the U.S. Congress to ensure that spending would reflect the priorities of the people, and balance the legislature against the executive branch of government. Earmarks are a means by which members of Congress can adapt national policies to local conditions, benefitting their constituents.

Capitalizing on interviews with Washington insiders and using well-developed examples we:

  • Illustrate how earmark projects that were highly pilloried responded to the needs of local communities that would otherwise go unaddressed by unelected bureaucrats.

  • Demonstrate how the “selfish” motives of members of Congress can produce spending that benefits the nation.

  • Argue that lobbyists—far from corrupting the earmark process—provide valuable services to groups seeking earmarked funds, and help members of Congress and their staff navigate the appropriations process.

  • Take a critical look at media coverage of earmarks and argue that trends in media coverage lead to superficial and hyper-dramatic coverage of the earmark process.

  • Explain why the number of earmarks has surged over the last fifteen years.

  • Assess recent reforms in Congress and explain why recent reforms aimed at increasing transparency will not result in greater public trust.

Who should read this book?

This highly readable book is appropriate for general readers interested in learning more about Congress.  It is appropriate for undergraduate courses (upper and lower division) focusing on American political institutions, and would be outstanding for an adult education course or book club.

Interested readers, students, and teachers will find some useful materials on the Learn More page.

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