He's now demanding a ban on the congressionally directed spending he once used.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) signed a letter on Monday opposing the use of earmarks and calling the practice "an inherently wasteful spending practice that is prone to serious abuse." But between 2008 and 2010, he obtained more than $400 million in what he now calls inherently wasteful spending.
Cornyn was one of 15 Republican senators announcing their opposition to earmarking — a controversial practice by which Congress explicitly specifies which spending projects it intends to fund in its appropriations bills, rather than leaving it up to the administration to decide — and proclaiming that they "stand committed" to an earmark ban.
The letter comes as Senate Republicans prepare for a Wednesday caucus vote on whether to lift a moratorium on earmarking and once again allow their members to obtain them for their favorite projects. The signatories comprise just 30% of the 50-member GOP minority caucus, perhaps indicating that their position is not a popular one in their caucus.
Earmarking used to be the norm in both the House and Senate, as lawmakers of both parties directed billions of dollars to projects in their states and districts.
Supporters believe that system made it easier to make legislative deals and gave elected members of Congress a large voice in where the money went.
Critics, however, saw it as fueling corruption and wasteful spending.
Cornyn used earmarking to bring home a lot of money. According to data from Taxpayers for Common Sense, he obtained $154,531,780 in earmarks in 2008, $140,687,000 in 2009, and $120,376,000 in 2010. That gave him a three-year total of $415,594,780 worth of federal spending.
He did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.
None of the other 14 Republicans signing the letter were in the Senate yet in 2010, but at least two others have some history of benefiting from earmarks.
According to a 2010 report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey obtained at least $9 million worth of earmarks early in his House career, including $3 million for a company that was a major source of his own campaign contributions.
During his unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign, the Los Angeles Times reported that Utah's Mitt Romney also sought earmarked federal money during his term as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
From 2011 until this year, both chambers placed a moratorium on all earmarks. The House and Senate Democratic majorities announced this year that they would lift the ban — with some safeguards to make sure the money goes to public institutions and nonprofits — and invited Republicans to participate if they wished.
The Republican National Committee platform — adopted in 2016 and kept unchanged in 2020 — brags "Our Republican majority ended the practice of earmarks, which often diverted transportation spending to politically favored projects."
But House Republicans, who had previously attacked earmarks as "corrupt," voted by secret ballot on March 17 — 102 in favor, 84 against — voted to allow their caucus to resume earmark requests.
While there is disagreement as to whether earmarks are a good thing or a bad thing, many congressional Republicans seem to have now reversed themselves twice on the issue — first using them, then opposing them as a corrupt, and now backing their return.
Cornyn's Senate website tries to present him as fiscally responsible, pushing for Congress to be "careful stewards of your tax dollars, focusing on lowering annual deficits and recovering from our $22 trillion debt [now $28 trillion] so future generations can enjoy the same opportunities available today." But he has made no effort to pay back the $415,594,780 in spending he now calls "inherently wasteful."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.