I strongly dispute the claims made in a recent Myrtle Beach Sun News article repeated by The Associated Press -- claims that have been refuted before and are being rehashed again. The projects referenced in this piece all relate to community projects or local agencies from which I have received a request for funding. None of them financially benefit family or friends.
Should I deny a request from the city of Columbia for funding to the Drew Wellness Center to combat childhood obesity because my daughter ran the membership program there at one time? Should I deny a request from the South Sumter Resource Center for assistance to at-risk youth because my brother was once employed by a different youth program and my sister-in-law happens to work in the same building at a separate agency?
Every earmark request I make must be accompanied by a statement that says, "I certify that neither I nor my spouse has any financial interest in this project." I take that pledge seriously and vet each earmark for any improper connection to friends or family members. I have never requested funds for any airport in Georgia or anywhere outside the state of South Carolina. I resigned from the board of the International African American Museum when the museum's designer subcontracted a New Mexico architecture firm, which subsequently hired my nephew for the project. But I will not stop working with the state Department of Transportation to provide federal dollars to South Carolina because my son-in-law is employed by the highway department. Nor will I stop working with state and local government because a cousin or relative might work for the agency or entity.
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Accountability and transparency are important in government. That's why the new Democratic majority has dramatically reformed the earmarking process after Republicans abused the system for over a decade and let earmarks multiply in size. We put in place a structure that calls for new transparency, accountability and disclosure, and we have reduced the total dollar amount earmarked in appropriations bills by 43 percent.
I will continue to defend earmarks as an important part of my job as representative for the 6th Congressional District of South Carolina. Banning all earmarks, as my critics would like to do, would put federal funding in the hands of Washington bureaucrats -- many of whom have never been to South Carolina, let alone the rural counties and communities I represent.
These are communities that were systematically denied state and federal resources for decades. I believe, as their representative, my work should be transparent and open so it can be held up to public scrutiny. If the projects I have funded don't meet with their approval, voters may speak their mind every two years in November. To me, that's true accountability.
My larger concern is that my detractors at Citizens Against Government Waste, or CAGW, aren't being fully transparent themselves. St. Petersburg Times, The Washington Post and others have investigated CAGW and found that they are a partisan front group for John McCain and other special interests. The group's fund-raising arm has donated $11,000 in cash to McCain or one of his PACs since 2004, which is 20 times the contribution it has made to other candidates. The group has played an active role in a campaign to defend McCain from attacks against his stance on the Air Force's decision to award a lucrative tanker contract to Northrop Grumman and a European partner. CAGW has also received funding to lobby on behalf of Mexican avocado growers, a health club association and a major liquor company. What do these issues have to do with government waste? I'm curious.
This weekly column features opposing views from readers. These opinions are contrary to those expressed on this page or which otherwise take issue with something that appears in The Herald. All commentaries submitted become the property of The Herald and may be republished in any format.