Giving the People What They Want? The Distribution of Earmarks in the U.S. House of Representatives


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at a workshop at Georgia State University. I would like to thank Frances Lee, Eric Lawrence, members of the Georgia State political science department, and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions.

Jeffrey Lazarus is Professor of Political Science, Georgia State University, P.O. Box 4069, Atlanta, GA 30302-4069 (


The common wisdom in journalistic accounts of earmarking is that Congress distributes earmarks on a purely political basis, without any consideration for the demand for federal spending. Academic accounts similarly argue that factors internal to Congress are preeminent in determining where earmarks go, even more than for other types of pork-barrel spending. Using earmarks appearing in the fiscal year 2008 Appropriations bills, I search for both chamber-based and demand-side determinants of the distribution of earmarks. I find that both types of factors are significantly related to the number of earmarks that a House member receives. This result indicates that even while earmarking, members of Congress are at least minimally responsive to voter preferences and calls into question whether earmarks should be treated as an outlier within the universe of spending allocation mechanisms.