Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has been accused of trading a $2 million earmark in exchange for $30,000 in campaign contributions from Voyager Expanded Learning. Landrieu denies the allegations. However, at a minimum, the scandal should refocus attention on the utter failure of the Democrats to keep their pledge to clean up Congress. Regardless of the merits of these allegations, one obvious question should be why senators are forcing such contracts on the D.C. government or any governmental agency. at a fundraiser held by Voyager’s founder and chairman.The Washington Post is reporting the story:
Landrieu, as the ranking Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate’s D.C. appropriations subcommittee until early this year, was a pivotal figure in school spending and policy issues. With the Voyager earmark, she intruded on a curriculum decision normally made by teachers, principals, administrators and educational advisers.”It is unclear to me why Congress thinks they’re qualified to do that,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a nonprofit group based in the District. He said he thought the earmark was “a bad idea” because it added to the “overall fractured nature of the system.”D.C. schools have long been subjected to experimental curricula, piling “one program on top of another for so many years that one cannot tell what the system is trying to do academically or why,” said a report commissioned by Casserly’s group four years ago.Landrieu declined requests for an interview, but in a statement to The Washington Post this month, she said she has “long championed new approaches to improving children’s education, leading the push for smarter public-private partnerships and for innovative programs like Voyager.”Landrieu has received about $80,000 from Voyager employees and lobbyists, Federal Election Commission records show. “It is not uncommon for Members of Congress to receive contributions from individuals who support their policy goals,” she said in the statement to The Post, echoing a similar response she gave Education Week last year for a story on Voyager’s political connections.Voyager employed lobbyists and made political contacts to obtain at least 14 earmarks over five years, worth more than $8 million, according to a review of congressional records. Some went to other parts of the country, but most — $5.23 million — went to D.C. schools.
Landrieu is entitled to answer the allegations and the public is entitled to have an true investigation to determine the truth. However, regardless of the outcome, why do we have a system where members can individually force agencies to accept programs or contractors. If such contracts are so clearly beneficial, they should be able to make it through an objective and neutral process. Earmarks are an invitation for corruption at worst and inefficiency at best.The solution was simple: ban earmarks and make all contracts to go through the same process. The Democrats however refused to get rid of this system and this month Sen. Robert Byrd (D. W.V.) passed the $3 billion mark in earmarked programs for his own state, click hereLandrieu’s earmark illustrates the unusual role that Congress has played in shaping the District’s troubled school system. No other school budget is subject to approval by Capitol Hill. None is so susceptible to the whims and policy prescriptions of federal lawmakers. And the parents, teachers and administrators of D.C. schools are the only ones in the country who lack a voting representative in Congress.For the Landrieu story, click here