With the midterm elections approaching, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are battling to claim the clean-ethics crown.
That's one reason Rep. David Obey (D-WI), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he's killing off one of lawmakers' most lucrative perks: corporate earmarks.
Obey said the panel will stop approving earmarks that lawmakers request on behalf of for-profit corporations.
"Earmarks to private entities present opportunities for corruption and getting members in trouble," says Ryan Alexander of the advocacy group Taxpayers for Common Sense. "It's not the best way to spend taxpayer money to have individual members of Congress direct money to private companies."
Most of the corporate earmarks come from the subcommittee that oversees defense spending. The House ethics committee just wrapped up a probe of that panel's earmarks and campaign contributions. Nearly half of the subcommittee members were involved. They were all exonerated.
That subcommittee's new chairman, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), joined Obey in announcing the earmarks ban. They said the Pentagon now will evaluate corporate pitches for defense earmarks, and the committee will set up a single Web link for all House members' earmark requests.
House Republicans tried to beat Obey to the punch.
Minority leader John Boehner called for a ban on all earmarks.
"I think it's time for our conference to sit down and have a real adult conversation about whether we're really willing to do what's necessary to come all the way back," Boehner said.
But GOP members have rejected that idea before.
And at the Senate, Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) said there's nothing inherently corrupt about earmarks for corporations.