Canton Repository

March 3, 2006

Regula accepts funding requests through Web site

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Organizations within Rep. Ralph Regula’s congressional district that desire federal funding for a special project, such as construction of a fitness facility or a government defense contract, can apply for the funding through his Web site.

At a time when narrowly focused spending projects written into legislation by lawmakers have come under intense fire, Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, is one of an apparently small number of lawmakers who are using their congressional Web sites as part of the application process.

As the chairman of a key appropriations subcommittee, Regula has exercised his influence to write millions of dollars in projects into bills benefiting companies, schools, hospitals, fitness groups and other organizations in his district.

WHO CAN APPLY

Companies, nonprofit organizations, local and state governments and public agencies all may seek money, which are called earmarks because they involve federal funds that are reserved for specific purposes determined by individual lawmakers.

Critics call earmarks pork and say they are a wasteful use of federal funds because they bypass regular government agency analysis, distribution and review. Defenders of the practice, including Regula, contend that lawmakers know the needs of their districts better than bureaucrats.

Regula is limiting applications to organizations within the district but said special permission may be given to some outside groups to apply.

The questionnaire, at www.house.gov/regula, asks applicants to provide a description of the activity or project for which they are requesting funds. It also asks for a detailed breakdown of how the funds would be spent, a list of other funding sources, and a description of the organization’s main activities.

Finally, the application wants to know what “national significance” the project would have and what “measurable improvements” would result.

The questionnaire must be filled out on the Web site and e-mailed to Regula’s office by March 9.

MORE PROMINENCE

This year apparently marks the second time the questionnaire has appeared on Regula’s Web site. But it is being given more prominence than in the past.

Regula said he put the questionnaire on the Web site as part of an effort by the House Appropriations Committee to make the earmarking process more uniform.

Several watchdog groups and some lawmakers have begun a push to ban or restrict earmarks after the conviction of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., who admitted to taking $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for bestowing government contracts on contractors and lobbyists.

In the past, many organizations that applied to Regula for federal funding found out about the availability of the money from lobbyists, Regula said.

With the application available on the Web site, Regula said he is unsure whether he will get more applications or receive applications from groups that did not request funding in the past.

Several other lawmakers make applications available on their Web sites, according to Keith Ashdown, a vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group that monitors government spending.

“On the pro side, you can look at it and say it’s very democratic. Anyone who has access to the Web site can request an earmark,” Ashdown said. But he added that it’s also possible that lawmakers decide who will get earmarks “long before those submissions are made.”

‘THE GREATEST GOOD’

Regula said he decides which requests he will seek funding for based on what “I think will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”

The appropriations subcommittee that Regula chairs has provided $1 billion in funding for projects requested by congressmen and senators in recent years, except for last year, when earmarks were canceled as a result of a tight budget.

Regula denied that campaign contributions play any role in who receives funding in his decision-making.

“No way. I wouldn’t even think about doing that,” he said when asked if he seeks contributions from recipients of the funding. “That doesn’t mean that some groups might ... make a political contribution but it’s not because of anything that we’ve ever requested them to do.”

Observers of Congress say in many cases, it is simply understood or communicated by lobbyists that groups that receive earmarked funding are expected to make campaign contributions to the lawmakers who wrote them into legislation.

Or if they are nonprofit groups that are barred from making political contributions, they could provide some other kind of benefit, such as an invitation to speak, an honorary degree or an award, they say.