An after-school learning program in West Valley City, transportation projects in Provo and a nursing program at Utah Valley University are all recipients of federal earmarks that Jason Chaffetz says should have never been funded.
The earmarks are among $9.4 million U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, helped secure for local projects that were slipped into appropriations bills through an earmark process that's frequently criticized as pork barrel spending.
Chaffetz defeated Cannon in a June Republican primary and says he doesn't care if the money would benefit his district or the state he wants no part of earmarks.
"Until there's reform, I will not ask for them. They're a cancer within the system, and I want to extract them," Chaffetz said by telephone from Washington, D.C.
As the Republican nominee in one of the nation's most conservative districts, Chaffetz is expected to easily defeat Democratic challenger Bennion Spencer in November.
If elected, Chaffetz would be the only member of Utah's congressional delegation to swear off earmarks, potentially costing the 3rd Congressional District millions of dollars.
"What earmark opponents fail to realize is that without earmarks, unaccountable and unelected administration bureaucrats direct Utahns' hard-earned tax dollars someplace else. In that system, Utahns lose," said Cannon's spokesman, Fred Piccolo. Nearly all of Cannon's earmarks had the support of another member of Utah's delegation.
Of the 10 Utah earmarks Cannon helped secure in the past year, he was the sole sponsor of only one of them $245,000 for a road-widening project in Utah County, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
The other earmarks were usually co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch or Sen. Bob Bennett, including $4 million for a bus rapid-transit system between Provo and Orem and $3.4 million for a clean-energy program at the University of Utah. This year, earmarks accounted for $17 billion of the $2.9 trillion budget. Utah's share of earmarks is about $72.9 million.
Those earmarks are for fine projects, Chaffetz said, but they shouldn't circumvent the executive branch's competitive-based selection process.
"I think there are ways to get appropriations done for worthwhile projects. It shouldn't be done through the cloak of darkness," he said.
Earmark defenders contend elected representatives know their state's needs better than Washington bureaucrats and note that the Founding Fathers explicitly gave Congress control over spending.
"Rep. Cannon has always maintained that the size of the budget, which doesn't change regardless of how many earmarks are in it, is the real source of corruption and waste. He believes an open and transparent earmark system will keep worthy projects and weed out the bad. Each of his earmarks represent months of work with local elected officials and benefit the 3rd District," Piccolo said.
Still, public anger over earmarks remains high after congressional scandals involving lobbyist bribery through the earmarking process.
Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said Chaffetz is likely to have plenty of support from voters by maintaining his anti-earmarking stance, even if it means a loss in education funding or sitting in traffic longer.
"There is a general public feeling against earmarks and the increased use of them. It's just undeniable," he said. "I think, in principle, most people agree with Chaffetz. But when they really start thinking it through, there are times you expect your member of Congress to deliver and it may not be until one of those moments that people really start thinking about it."