Politics

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And with the mid-term elections approaching, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are all trying to look better when it comes to ethics. So yesterday, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey, said he's killing off corporate earmarks. That's the practice of writing legislation to steer funds towards pet projects or businesses, often in a lawmaker's home district.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Obey, a Democrat, said that House Appropriations will stop approving earmarks that lawmakers request on behalf of for-profit corporations. Ryan Alexander is with the advocacy group Taxpayers for Common Sense. She says House Democrats are acknowledging basic truths.

Ms. RYAN ALEXANDER (President, Taxpayers for Common Sense): That earmarks to private entities present opportunities for corruption and getting members into trouble and that it's not the best way to spend taxpayer money, to have individual members of Congress direct money to private companies.

OVERBY: Most of the corporate earmarks come from the Defense Subcommittee. The House Ethics Committee just wrapped up a probe of earmarks and campaign contributions on that panel. Nearly half of the subcommittee members were involved. They were all exonerated. The subcommittee's new chairman, Democrat Norm Dicks, joined Obey in announcing the ban.

They said the Pentagon now will evaluate corporate pitches for defense earmarks, and the committee will set up a single Web link to disclose all House members earmark requests. Republicans tried to beat Obey to the punch. House Minority Leader John Boehner called for a total ban on earmarks.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): 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.

OVERBY: But GOP members have rejected that idea before. And over at the Senate, Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, a Democrat, said there's nothing inherently corrupt about earmarks for corporations.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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