“In Washington today, a Senate hearing on bridge safety turned into a debate over spending,” anchor Katie Couric said on the September 20 “Evening News.” “Democrats want to spend more on infrastructure repair, while the transportation secretary suggested it's better to spend wisely. Meanwhile, members of Congress seemed to be finding plenty of money for their pet projects, so-called earmarks.”
CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson showed how liberal Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) directed $550,000 of federal transportation money to a children’s charity.
“With decaying bridges and crumbling highways sorely under-funded, Congress somehow found the money in last year's transportation budget to help build a boat that won't take you anywhere,” Attkisson said.
The boat is called “Noah’s Ark,” a children’s play park that is part of the Skirball Cultural Center, a private charity in Los Angeles. And admission’s not even free – according to CBS, “Noah's Ark has been bringing in $16,000 in ticket sales per week since it opened last June.” Attkisson reported that the charity’s director, Uri Herscher, went to Waxman for the money and Waxman steered it to the charity in the form of an earmark.
But Waxman defended the money. “The amount of money that the Skirball got for this project was very, very small. It was $550,000," said Waxman.
Ironically, Waxman led the charge following the Democratic victories that led to their control of Congress in 2006, probing areas of the Bush administration for wrongdoing as chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.
And, as Attkisson pointed out, $550,000 goes a long way. “A half million dollars may be small change to members of Congress, but it's real money to most Americans,” Attkisson said. “And you're picking up the tab for billions of dollars in earmarks like that every year.”
Attkisson reported the charity in question had plenty of money. According to IRS filings, the charity is managed by executives “earning six-figure salaries” and it has a “more than $8-million payroll and boasts financial books that might be the envy of most any charity: $885 million in gross receipts (that's just for one year) and a $100 million endowment.”
“They have over $200 million in net assets. Is that an organization that really needs the helping hand of federal taxpayers?" Attkisson asked.
“It's going to serve a very important interest in education, in culture, in the arts, teaching values to children," said Waxman. "I think that's well worth the money.”
“I mean, we have an example recently of a bridge collapsing, and we have too little money going to critical items in the transportation bill like bridges or highways, and instead it's bled off to other things,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to CBS.