Joining fellow Colorado Republican representatives, freshman Congresswoman Lauren Boebert didn’t apply for funding of local projects through earmarks after the provision returned from a 10-year pause.
Earmarks, the practice that allows representatives to direct money to projects in their local districts, were banned in the House in 2011 after concerns about corruption. One of the scandals included former Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham of California taking bribes in return for promising earmarks to defense contractors.
Now that earmarks have returned, some Republican representatives are still disavowing the process, including Boebert.
Colorado Democrats proposed a list of nearly $200 million in spending through earmarks, including projects such as rebuilding highway interchanges and establishing local health clinics, according to Open the Books. But in Colorado’s rural regions, projects like those will not be completed through earmark funding, and constituents are concerned.
“I do not request earmarks, and I have been a leader in opposing the reintroduction of earmarks, since they are a corrupt tool used by career politicians to reward special-interest groups, lobbyists, and campaign donors,” Boebert wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. “Bipartisan anti-corruption reformers in Congress banned earmarks a decade ago, but Speaker Pelosi has brought them back to bribe moderate members of Congress to support her radical leftist agenda.”
Boebert also signed a pledge against earmarks along with other Republican representatives, including Ken Buck, R-Colo., in March.
George Autobee, founder of the liberal PAC Rural Colorado United, said Boebert not submitting earmarks is “typical” but still damaging to her district.
“That’s a part of their job, even though they don’t believe in those earmarks, that’s our tax money coming back to us,” he said. “We paid. We’re trying to get that money back into our communities to do positive things.”
Southern Colorado has many needs that could have been addressed through earmarks, Autobee said, such as establishing rail transport to Denver and increasing affordable housing.
Earmarks used to be a bipartisan route until the scandals, said Kevin Kosar, a scholar studying American politics and policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. After the scandals involving Republican representatives like Cunningham, the GOP paused earmarks to “fix their brand,” Kosar said.
“Boebert needs to ask herself how can she fix local problems if she doesn’t ask for some form of directed spending,” he said. “Now this is money already appropriated by Congress, it’s going to be spent somewhere. And does she really want Joe Biden’s executive branch making the decision?”
Carol Cure, former chairwoman of the La Plata County Democrats, said she’s “dismayed” by Boebert’s decision. Improving broadband, revamping roads and bridges, and establishing affordable health care programs are some of the projects La Plata County has a “tremendous need” for, she said.
“We certainly have a lot of needs that she was elected to care about and to represent, and I don't see her doing them,” Cure said.
The La Plata County Republican Central Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
Jennifer Filipowski, chairwoman of the Eagle County Democrats; and Kevin Kuns, chairman of the Montrose County Democratic Party, voiced similar concerns about their counties’ needs but were not surprised Boebert did not apply for funding.
In rural areas of Colorado where there are fewer resources than in urban centers, earmarks are especially needed to improve infrastructure, said Mary Dodd, chairwoman of the Montezuma County Democrats.
“I don’t think she simply even had the skills to get earmarks, and that is as a constituent, and as someone who is paying part of her salary,” Dodd said.
Although Boebert did not apply for earmarks, she says she’s applying for funding through other means.
“Even though I won’t be requesting earmarks, I put the needs of my district first every day,” Boebert wrote in an email to the Herald. “My office advocates for federal funding to flow to our district through competitive grant processes based on need and the merits and in the same open, honest, and fair way that Congress has used for the past decade.”
Boebert also applied for appropriations requests that would benefit her district, including funding for U.S. Air Force flight training, community health centers and the bark beetle epidemic, she said.
Despite Republicans denouncing spending through earmarks, several Republican representatives applied for the largest sums of funding.
Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves requested the largest amount at more than $1 billion, according to Open the Books. Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne, Alaska Rep. Don Young and Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer are in the top 10 of spending proposals through earmarks, as well.
Kaela Roeder is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a 2021 graduate of American University in Washington, D.C.