John Fund examines the unseemly rush to use taxpayer money to pay for monuments to living legislators. Charlie Rangel is just the latest example of a politician soliciting funds from businesses with interests before his committee. This has been going on for years. Pols are paying for their self-named edifices with taxpayer money.
Charles Rangel, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, is intent on raising $30 million for a new academic center in his New York district — a center with his name on it. After securing an earmark and two other federal grants totaling some $2.6 million for the project, the Democratic congressman wrote letters on his congressional stationery to businesses with interests before his committee. They sought meetings to help him fulfill his “personal dream” of seeing the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service completed.
The House Ethics Committee will examine the legality of Mr. Rangel’s requests, but the bigger question is why Congress hands out money to name buildings, bridges — everything under the sun — after its own living members. Until roughly the 1960s, people had to die before a grateful nation memorialized them in granite. The Lincoln Memorial wasn’t dedicated until a full half century after the Great Emancipator’s death. Ditto for Franklin Roosevelt. George Washington had to wait 89 years for his memorial.
Now it seems almost every committee chairman gets some “Monument to Me” named after himself with the tab going to the taxpayer. There’s a navigation lock in Pennsylvania named after Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, the former GOP chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He represents St. Petersburg, Fla. — his only connection to Pennsylvania is that he happened to be born there. Nor is that Mr. Young’s only monument. The C.W. Young Center for Bio-Defense and Emerging Infectious Disease was dedicated at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., last year.
The real champ at this is Edifice Rex himself, Robert “Porky” Byrd of West Virginia. He has at least three dozen edifices named for him – or for his late wife. Some states are trying to crack down on this, but with only varying degrees of success. Actually, they are mostly unsuccessful.
That’s our money they are glad handing away. If they want a building named for them, they should be paying for it out of their own pockets.