Guest / Limited Access /

Not in the 50 years I've been in Washington have I witnessed the stranglehold special interest groups now have on our political system.

In Fairmont, West Virginia, a new Institute for Scientific Research sits in what used to be a pasture. This "research center," which cost taxpayers $103 million, boasts a swimming pool, sauna, and spa. It's nearly empty and likely to stay that way. A ranking member of Congress who snuck funding for it into a law is under investigation.

Then there's the Florida resort town called Treasure Island, which wanted $15 million to rebuild a crumbling bridge. City officials hired a lobbyist buddy of a Florida congressman, then chairman of the appropriations committee. The congressman delivered special appropriations, not for $15 million, but for $50 million.

Clearly, the real Treasure Island is Washington's K Street, where lobbyists work—4,000 of them, according to journalist John Fund.

Like the Institute for Scientific Research, Treasure Island's bridge was funded through earmarks. Members of Congress add these expenditures, which bypass the budgeting process and earn approval without debate. Last year, more than 15,000 earmarks cost taxpayers $47 billion dollars. Many are infamous—like Alaska's "bridge to nowhere."

Earmarks have become an epidemic. The number of earmarks has doubled in the last six years. So have the number of public entities hiring Washington lobbyists. For communities, police, and firefighters, lobbyists are worth their weight in gold—or pork. For example, the city of Portland, Oregon, spent $1.2 million on lobbyists in 2005 and received $94 million in earmarked funds—a handsome return.

Powerful special interests have become, in effect, a fourth branch of government, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Charles Colson
Charles Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an outreach to convicts, victims of crime, and justice officers. Colson, who converted to Christianity before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices. His books included Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? A Christianity Today columnist since 1985, Colson died in 2012.
Previous Charles Colson Columns:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only
What's Next: Missions
Whole gospel: What evangelical leaders say are the priorities and challenges for the next 50 years.
RecommendedAnn Voskamp: We Must Trade Charity for Solidarity
Ann Voskamp: We Must Trade Charity for Solidarity
An excerpt from The Broken Way
TrendingSpeak Truth to Trump
Speak Truth to Trump
Evangelicals, of all people, should not be silent about Donald Trump's blatant immorality.
Editor's PickThe Best Ways to Help the Poor
The Best Ways to Help the Poor
A new book, building on three classics, fills out the picture.
Christianity Today
The Earmark Epidemic
hide thisOctober October

In the Magazine

October 2006

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.