Pork opponent Rep. Campbell backtracks on own ‘earmark’

Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) earlier this month pulled legislation that would have authorized funds for a project in his Orange County district.

Campbell’s initial move to seek the funding raised eyebrows among fiscal conservatives because they say the bill has the distinct characteristics of an earmark.

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Campbell has been one of the most outspoken opponents of pork and is one of nine members of Congress to sign an earmark reform pledge crafted by the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). 

Campbell’s bill, which seeks to amend the Water Desalination Act of 1996 to allow the secretary of the Interior Department to authorize $2.5 million for a desalination project in Dana Point, Calif., would have effectively circumvented the government’s competitive bidding process, according to the Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“[Campbell’s provision] certainly strikes us as an earmark,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Tax Payers for Common Sense. “[His] bill inserts a provision that at the end of the day [that allocates] $2.5 million to a Dana Point desalinization facility…it’s clearly authorizing funding and subverting the process.”

Sources on and off Capitol Hill alerted The Hill to Campbell’s bill, complaining of a disconnect between the lawmaker’s words and actions.

Campbell’s legislation, cosponsored by Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.), raises the murky question of what constitutes an earmark. Most traditional earmarks are not introduced as freestanding bills like the Campbell measure, which went through the normal committee vetting process. According to House rules, the Campbell bill is not an earmark – as stipulated in the House report that accompanies the legislation.

Campbell contended that the bill is not an earmark and noted that he has told constituents pushing for the project that he would not ask for an earmark for them. {mospagebreak}

He added that he only agreed to file the bill because work on the project had been started by his predecessor, former Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.).

Campbell said he introduced the measure before he signed the CAGW pledge. Regardless, he believes it met all of the criteria of the pledge.

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“Arguably I was trying to do this the right way,” he said. “People are criticizing me for trying to do it the right way.”
Campbell contended that the scrutiny of his bill is part of a string of tactics that earmark reform opponents are launching against him.

“I’m not going to let them distract me from trying to reform the earmark process,” he said, adding that in the future he would no longer introduce similar authorizing amendments.

“Even if it’s totally right I shouldn’t do it before the process is reformed,” he said. “No bill is more important than [earmark reform].”

The Campbell bill had been cleared for a House vote earlier this year. On Feb. 12 – the same day he addressed the Heritage Foundation to discuss earmarks — Campbell formally indicated he did not want a vote on his bill.

Campbell isn’t the first earmark critic to attract criticism for pursuing legislation on local projects.

Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (R-Ariz.) was taken to task in 2003 on the House floor by Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.) for inserting 11 defense projects into the Appropriation package that year.

 “I just wanted to point out that it was not noted by the gentleman who spoke before me that all 11 items that I requested have a ‘DEF’ right next to them. That means defense,” Flake said at the time. “There is a difference between the National Cowgirls Hall of Fame and funding aviator night vision imaging systems for our helicopters.”

Matt Specht, a spokesman for Flake, said the exchange was actually a pivotal one for the Arizona Republican.

“It was that exchange that convinced Congressman Flake that it’s too difficult to make significant reforms to the earmark process when one is participating in it,” he said. “Unfortunately, Congress, as a body, hasn’t come to that conclusion yet and there seems to be an institutional resistance to an earmark moratorium.”

Ellis, meanwhile, emphasized that Campbell is generally regarded as a leader in the earmark reform movement and that for better or worse, anti-earmark crusaders tend to be held to a higher standard than their quieter and perhaps more pork-hungry colleagues.

“Unfortunately if you become a leader on reform, there is a sacrifice,” he said.

Campbell said he is undeterred by the criticism but maintained that every earmark should be vetted like hisbill has been.

“That’s why earmarks should go through this kind of process because [currently] there is no debate, no scrutiny, no nothing,” he said. “It’s somewhat ironic that people who live by doing these things the wrong way escape criticism.”

He added, “This whole thing has just emboldened me.”

As of Jan. 30, the other legislators who have signed the CAGW pledge are: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.); and Reps. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), Flake, Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Tom Price (R-Ga.), Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea MORE (R-Wis.), and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.).