April 17th, 2008
06:35 AM ET
15 years ago

Senate eyes probe of mystery earmark

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/16/art.reid0416.ap.jpg caption="The Senate, led by Democrat Harry Reid, is expected to vote soon on a request to investigate a Florida earmark."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate may seek a federal investigation into a 2005 earmark on a highway funding bill that was mysteriously altered after Congress approved the measure but before President Bush signed it.

The $10 million earmark, originally designated for improvements to Interstate 75 in Lee and Collier Counties in Florida, was changed to direct the money to build an interchange in Lee County, an apparent violation of congressional rules.

"This wasn't an ordinary earmark," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said, defending the decision by Democratic leaders to invite the Justice Department to probe internal congressional practices. "It was the specific circumstances here that are highly unusual."

The Senate is expected to vote Thursday whether to direct the Justice Department to investigate "allegations of impropriety" and to "ascertain if a violation of Federal criminal law has occurred." No lawmaker has acknowledged making the change.

"If there's something untoward done, whether it's morally wrong, criminally wrong, let's take a look at it," argued Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who was then the chairman of the transportation committee and chief author of the bill, says he asked for the initial project money during the 2005 congressional session for "widening and improvements for I-75 in Collier and Lee counties."

But before the bill got to the President's desk for his signature, the wording of the earmark was changed and the $10 million was redirected to build the "Coconut Road interchange I-75, Lee County."

Democrats widely believe Young directed someone to change the language. They note that as the bill was moving through Congress, Young received $40,000 in campaign contributions from local business leaders who stood to gain from a new highway interchange at that location.

In a brief exchange with CNN as he left the House floor Wednesday, Young repeatedly said "no comment" when asked if he had anything to do with the change to the earmark.

It was unclear if the Justice Department would be bound by a Senate vote to seek an investigation. Democratic lawmakers argued that the department would be required to launch the investigation, but Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, argued that the department would not necessarily have to launch the probe.

Coburn, who champions reforming the earmark process, is pressing for a special congressional committee to investigate the matter. But Democratic leaders oppose the idea because they say it would be unconstitutional for senators to investigate members of the House.

Filed under: Congress
soundoff (138 Responses)
  1. independent from Lee County, FL

    Also – everyone thought their contribution was going to SWFTI – Southwest Florida Transportation Initiative – it wasn't until they got to the fundraiser that they were told to make their checks out to this random guy Don Young.

    April 17, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  2. Unsympathetic

    How much does everyone want to bet that the "benefit" from this interchange will never be realized? This is $10M more taxpayer money poured into the singularity of an economic depression in Florida. There will never be a positive return on this money, let alone anything resembling a profit.

    April 17, 2008 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  3. independent from Lee County, FL

    Also – everyone thought their contribution was going to SWFTI – Southwest Florida Transportation Initiative – it wasn't until they got to the fundraiser that they were told to make their checks out to this random guy Don Young.

    April 17, 2008 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  4. bill in Oklahoma

    To the BILL in CAPS

    Hillary is a Senator. She does not have a district, she represents the state.

    I wish colburn would do earmarks, perhaps he could earmark money to fix an unsafe bridge on which I drive.

    April 17, 2008 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  5. Uncle Sam

    IMPEACH BUSH! (Just kidding, I just wanted to see if CNN would deem comment this appropriate) I guess I was right.

    April 17, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  6. Alonzo Demetrius

    SPEAKING OF "TOO OLD", Reid and Pelosi are both senior citizens. Pelosi is third in line to become president. If Sen McCain is too old, so are these two senile creeps.

    April 17, 2008 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  7. Richard, FL

    It is fascinating to hear the "law and order" Republicans say that it's no big deal at all that Republicans may have rewritten a law to profit a Republican. Just another sign that the 29%ers seem to have no respect for our Constitution.

    April 17, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  8. Praetorian, Fort Myers

    I found it!!!

    57 new pools put in for members of the Democractic caucus commitee of Florida in Broward, Palm Beach, Dade County Florida...as payment of political support for Nancy (radical and nuts)Pelosi.

    April 17, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  9. ***AMERICAN***

    Check it out people earmarked (pork) spending has been going on since before the days of the beloved JFK.

    April 17, 2008 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  10. Liberal Bruce

    From what I read about this issue, the investigation has nothing to do with dealing with earmarks as a whole, just this one at this time. It seems to have gotten itself altered from the time it got approved to the time it was presented to our wonderful President for approval.

    I hope a new Democrat can do something with our busted economy. It is scarey that we have the largest debt in history, and are now the most reviled nation on the planet. When most non-Americans are asked, "Who is the worst terrorist?" They usually answer, 'The United States." We have taken terror to an all time new level. If we bomb the Mid-East into the stone age, they will still throw rocks at us. They don't like us in their country, they like Sharia Law. Unlike us, they will not have to worry about a woman running their country. We have the best country in the world, but we really need to quit trying to impose our will where it is not wanted. That only makes us the biggest bully in the world, not the spreaders of freedom.

    April 17, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  11. CHRIS


    April 17, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  12. ladymary

    More investigations will lead to more coverups. They'll probably find a Clinton making money out of it somewhere along the line. More of the same if Hillary gets in.

    April 17, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |





    April 17, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
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