As you've probably read here over the last few weeks, TPMmuckraker's Laura McGann has been tracking a strange earmark for a highway interchange project in Florida. And now she needs some help.
To get you up to speed, the Coconut Road project was funded (though not yet built) by a $10 million earmark from Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Now there are questions about why an Alaska congressman would take an interest in a highway project in faraway Florida and about the timing of campaign contributions to Young from the project's chief proponent. But the strangest thing about this earmark is how it made it into law in the first place.
The earmark was not in the final version of the bill that passed both the House and Senate. Got that? Somewhere after conference and after final passage by both chambers but before the President signed the bill, the earmark language was slipped into the text of the bill. It's pretty amazing and, from the experts we've talked to, pretty much unheard of for such a thing to happen.
So Laura set out to try to figure out how such a thing could happen. Literally, how it could happen. Where in the process could such tinkering occur? Which office? Which personnel? Which computer system? We wanted to understand the nuts and bolts of how Young or someone on Young's behalf or at his behest could make such a change and essentially have written into a law signed by the President language that Congress itself had not passed.
But as Laura went about her reporting she was stonewalled at every step: calls not returned, bounced from office to office and person to person. She has chronicled her efforts in this post.
Part of the trouble is that the earmark was slipped in back in 2005, when the GOP still controlled the House. The House clerk at the time is now long gone and there is probably some legitimate loss of institutional memory. But some of the memory loss may just be convenient.
Laura is going to keep plugging away at this. Maybe the House clerk will eventually return her calls. But if any of our readers on the Hill or elsewhere are familiar with the inner workings of the House and how such an earmark could be slipped in before the President puts his pen to the paper, Laura would love to hear from you.