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Congressional Self-Dealing Alive and Well -- Legislation that Would Enrich Select Special Interest Groups to be Voted on This Week



For Release:
September 24, 2007
Contact: David Almasi at (202) 543-4110 x11 or [email protected]


Washington, D.C. -
This Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will vote on a bill that would funnel over $135 million of federal pork to special interest groups in select members' districts. The "Celebrating America's Heritage Act," put forth by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), would create six new national heritage areas, including the controversial Journey Through Hallowed Ground. It would also increase congressional funding for nine existing heritage areas by 50 percent. This self-dealing is indicative of a Congress that has little interest in reforming ethics or earmark abuse, says the National Center for Public Policy Research.

"The only heritage celebrated in this bill is the unfortunately strong tradition of congressional self-dealing to pet special interests," said Peyton Knight, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for the National Center. "The rhetoric from Congress about reigning in spending and eliminating earmarks is apparently just that. This bill would establish permanent pork pipelines to numerous members' districts."

National heritage areas are creations of Congress in which special interest groups, whose work at times has been funded through secret Congressional earmarks, team up with the National Park Service to influence decisions over local land use previously made exclusively by elected local governments and private landowners.

For instance, the special interest group lobbying for the Journey Through Hallowed Ground heritage area (which has been quietly slipped into the Grijalva bill) received an anonymous one million-dollar earmark in the 2005 transportation bill. Incredibly, the group wasn't even incorporated at the time. This is an instance where one pork-barrel earmark was distributed to bolster support for another pork-barrel earmark.

Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has observed: "[O]nce a federal line is drawn around property for a heritage area, the door for annual federal earmarks and grants is opened."

According to figures from the National Taxpayers Union, the Celebrating America's Heritage Act's $135+ million price tag is equal to the annual federal income taxes paid by 33,276 middle class Americans. Ironically, it is the middle class that stands to lose the most, as heritage area interest groups are typically hostile to property rights and frequently use their muscle to restrict land use and make housing more expensive for middle-income buyers.

Earlier this month, The National Center delivered a coalition letter to congressional leaders signed by a diverse group of 114 think tanks, local government officials, civil rights organizations, grassroots leaders, farmers, ranchers and sportsmen calling on Congress to oppose the creation of any new national heritage areas.

"Despite cries for more accountability, less self-dealing and stronger property rights protections, Congress is putting forth legislation designed to enrich pet interest groups and erode Americans' property rights," said Knight. "It's little wonder why congressional approval ratings are at floor level. Congress isn't tone deaf, it's earless."

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation based in Washington, D.C.

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