Earmarks are back, with Congress’ recent spending bill containing over $16 billion in earmarks. This includes earmarks by Congressman Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), that went directly to Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, where his brother, John Cooper, is the mayor.
Earmarks are special funding mechanisms that allow federal legislators to designate money for local projects in their states or districts. Dubbed “the currency of corruption,” earmarks were once banned but legislators voted to bring them back in 2021.
Auditors at OpenTheBooks.com analyzed the federal earmarks database, and found that Congressman Cooper authorized two earmarks, one worth $2.2 million for unspecified “facilities and equipment,” and another worth $539,000 for an “urban forestry project.” Both go directly to his brother John Cooper’s unit of government, Metro Nashville.
Congressman Cooper, who is retiring at the end of this term, earmarked a total of $17.9 million over 10 earmarks for his district, including $4 million to the Fisk University John R. Lewis Center for Social Justice — Race Relations Building, and $2.5 million to the Moves & Grooves Center for Art & Innovation. Overall, the Tennessee delegation in Congress brought in a combined $98.7 million for the state.
While earmarking money for a family member’s unit of government may be unethical, it’s not illegal, which demonstrates why earmarks are so liable to abuse. Taxpayers in New Mexico and Montana shouldn’t be funding Nashville government, but with the return of earmarks, citizens all over the country are paying the price.
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