Thursday, August 23, 2007
Those of us who remember our civics class probably studied the wonderful flow chart of "How a Bill Becomes Law" that set forth the steps by which a Congress passes a piece of legislation that becomes the law of the land -- recall the cute stick figure putting a bill in the box at the start of the process. At TPM Muckraker (here), there is a review of how the language in an appropriations bill containing a $10 million earmark for a section of I-75 in Florida got changed after it was approved by both houses of Congress but before it was sent to the President to be signed into law. The bill itself was the 800-page transportation appropriations bill approved in 2005 that contained 6,371 special earmarks totaling $24.2 billion for special projects. It seems that one of these earmarks, sponsored by Alaska Representative Don Young, was changed from "Widening and Improvements for I-75 in Collier and Lee County" to "Coconut rd. interchange I-75/Lee County" after it was approved. Interestingly, the person who wanted the new interchange, which was opposed by the county, also helped raise $40,000 for Representative Young. I don't recall seeing a little stick figure soliciting campaign contributions in the flow chart.
There is a federal investigation of the Coconut Road earmark, and any attempt to obtain materials from Representative Young related to it could trigger some thorny Speech or Debate Clause claims. The issue of the scope of the protection afforded legislative acts has already come up in the investigation of Louisiana Representative William Jefferson, whose Capitol Hill office was searched by the FBI. Representative Young's possible involvement in the earmark squarely raises questions related to the exercise of legislative authority, so any attempt to subpoena records or conduct a search of his office will run into the privilege afforded members of Congress. (ph)