Last month the Washington Post published an extensive research project that canvassed public records for the previous 10 years to expose patterns of potentially selfish earmarks by US lawmakers. Earmarking is the practice of attaching unrelated legislation to a bill that is going to be signed into law.
Earmarks have become a political hot potato this year because a number of scandalous earmarks have been brought to the public’s attention. The practice has been in play for decades, however, and historians have yet to calculate the total amount of harm or benefit to the public good that earmarks may have led to. Just because an earmark is selfish doesn’t mean other people won’t benefit from it; however, earmarks are regarded with suspicion because many people feel they are sneaky ways for lawmakers to get controversial projects funded without being fully accountable to the public.
The Washington Post study demonstrates the intrinsic value of preserving and studying public records, looking for trends and specific patterns of behavior. Not only can we do this to maintain some measure of oversight on our lawmakers, we can also use it to identify significant health trends, climate trends, and many other important measurements of changes in human society and behavior.
If you have the opportunity to study public records we hope you find something useful to share with other people. We all need to know what these records reveal about our society at all levels.