Criminal Pork: House requests federal investigation of I-75 earmark change

In a show of bipartisanship, the House voted to request a federal investigation into tampering of legislation authorizing an earmark for a Florida road project. The earmark’s sponsor insisted that he and his staff did nothing wrong in changing the language of the legislation after it passed Congress but before it received approval from President Bush. The change redirected funds from general road construction to a project backed by Rep. Don Young’s (R-AK) campaign contributors:

The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to request a federal criminal investigation of changes to a $10 million earmark in 2005, after the backer of the special project, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) took to the House floor to defend his actions and warn colleagues that they were heading down “a slippery, slippery road.”

The Senate last month inserted the unprecedented request for an investigation into a larger measure that corrects errors in the massive highway and transportation law approved by Congress in 2005. The resolution asks the Justice Department to look into the circumstances surrounding the $10 million expenditure for a highway interchange in Florida backed by Young, the former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. …

The veteran lawmaker acknowledged last month that he requested the earmark, and an aide conceded that his staff changed its language after both the House and Senate had voted on a highway funding bill that included the measure. But Young denied that he pushed the provision as a result of receiving $40,000 in campaign donations from developers who owned 4,000 acres of land next to the proposed interchange on Interstate 75 just east of Naples, Fla.

The earmark process smells bad enough when it operates within the law, but this really stinks. Young requested the initial earmark as a general-funding venture, and then waited until it passed the House and Senate to modify it into a targeted boondoggle. Now Young wants us to believe that he and his staff went to all that effort for a district that could be almost the furthest from his own at-large Alaska seat for the merits of the proposal — a proposal the local planning board rejected three times — and that the $40,000 he received from developers who would directly benefit from it was just a coincidence.

Young outfoxed himself this time. He and his partner in pork, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), have used federal tax revenues as their own political piggy bank for years with pork-barrel procurements. However, the embarrassment of requesting $223 million for a bridge that would have benefited literally dozens of people forced Young into attempts to cover his porking tracks. Wary of the questions that would arise if he publicly sponsored a large earmark for Florida developers, he tried cheating his way around transparency.

Democrats and Republicans made the right choice in requesting a federal investigation for Young’s manipulations. The quid pro quo is so obvious, and the transgression so apparent, that anything less would declare open season on post-vote changes and corruption. Let the FBI get to the bottom of Young’s dealings, and let the result teach a lesson to would-be sell-outs in Congress.