Flake finally notched his first kill: a $129,000 earmark for the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree, a North Carolina program that creates jobs for artisans. "I am prepared after this amendment to answer to the name Grinch," he said.The problem is that this approach is based on the theory that congressmen will be embarrassed by the exposure of their efforts to fund the museum for Punxsutawney Phil or a mule museum. But the publicity often gets the offending congressman more public notice in his district as someone fighting to bring federal dollars home. Everyone else might be irritated by the use of our federal money to pay for all these non-federal responsibilities but the congressmen get to use their pork-barrel gains from the federal budget to help fund their reelection campaigns.
Yet his victory was almost undetectable.
Thousands of earmarks worth millions of dollars still cling to this year's spending bills like barnacles. But partly as a result of Flake's relentless nagging -- not to mention recent earmarking scandals -- congressional leaders have pledged to reduce the number of earmarks and open the process to more public scrutiny.
Flake's gripe is that projects are slipped into bills, often at a lobbyist's behest, without much, if any, public justification. "The earmarking process is fraught with a lack of transparency, fiscal responsibility and equity for taxpayers," he said, "all too often rewarding the districts of powerful members of Congress in the Appropriations Committee at the expense of the rest of the body."
So Congressman Flake's fight to strip out earmarks will continue to be a futile effort.
Back home, Flake has been criticized for depriving his district of money for projects. But, he said, "for everybody who comes to me and says, 'Hey, you should be getting earmarks,' I have a hundred who say, 'Atta boy, keep up what you're doing.' "
Earmark-funded projects are often named for their congressional benefactors -- dozens of projects in West Virginia have been named after for Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a master of pork-barrel politics.
There's no Flake Center for Cactus Research. And that's fine with him.
"If I have something named after me when I leave Congress," he said, "I'll consider my time here a failure.