The long-standing but controversial congressional practice of "earmarking" appropriations for particular projects has put two South Jersey representatives in an unwanted spotlight.
In an ongoing series on congressional ethics, The Washington Post listed New Jersey Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd Dist.) among 33 members who in recent years have directed more than $300 million in federal funds into areas where they own commercial or residential property.
In a related story, the newspaper noted that Rep. Robert Andrews (D-1st Dist.) had obtained federal funding for Rutgers-Camden Law School, where his wife is an associate dean. That is old news in New Jersey, where it was a 2008 campaign issue.
Andrews said the money funds a scholarship program that requires students to provide legal services to poor residents of Camden. In 2007, he obtained an ethics opinion that cleared the practice.
The congressional process of funneling portions of appropriations to specific projects normally is legal. But these earmarks have come under closer scrutiny in the following revelations about the increasing wealth of many in Congress, and questions about the impact of their legislative actions on their personal incomes.
After approving a record $32 billion in earmarks in 2010, lawmakers agreed to a moratorium on earmarks, although some members complain that has merely led to camouflaging them. The Senate last week approved measures to require members to disclose information about their mortgages, prohibit congressional insider trading, strip pensions from those ousted for corruption and require political intelligence operatives to register. But the Senators defeated an effort to ban earmarks.
Still, the Senate reforms won support from good-government groups. But it faces a buzzsaw in the House of Representatives.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington today criticized House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for "cynically" substituting what it called "a watered-down version" of the bill that would keep most of the current system in place.
In LoBiondo's case, the Post reported that he secured almost $4.7 million for beach replenishment and monitoring in Ventnor, where he owns a home, and Atlantic City. In response, LoBiondo's office released a statement saying he has worked to secure funds for communities along the Jersey Shore and the Delaware Bay "without consideration of the financial impact to himself."