Forbes: "Me Monuments" – A New $10M Earmark Pays For Retiring U.S. Senators' Libraries 36_earmarks

December 8, 2021 10:14 AM

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By Adam Andrzejewski

United States Senators think they are important. 

So important that they are trying to set aside $10 million to preserve the office files of the six announced retiring senators – “to ensure a full historical record of a Senator’s service.” Five of six senators are Republicans – and if any others retire, they would be eligible for the money too.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is retiring after serving since 1975. He sits atop the Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for writing annual funding bills, and it appears the Chairman plans to have taxpayers give him and his colleagues a $10 million retirement gift.

Into the FY2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill under consideration in the Senate, Sen. Leahy slipped $10 million for the Secretary of the Senate, which the accompanying Committee reports explains is “to assist with the proper archiving of official [Senatorial] records” and to make grants “to educational institutions” agreeing to take in the “Senators’ records” (see pages 18-19).

Complicated and tricky, but we read the bill and tied it out.

The late U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and his colleagues used to call buildings that federal politicians named after themselves “Monuments to Me” and, for a while, the practice was banned in funding bills.

Sen. Leahy dropped the funding bill’s text in October, and announced his own retirement a few weeks later. Yet, surprisingly, the National Archives already has a live link next to his name, for the University of Vermont’s Howe Library, where soon the Senator’s papers (and perhaps taxpayer funds) will be going. 

In response to our request for comment, a spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee described the senator’s actions: “Senator Leahy requested that this funding be included … to provide a fund for which Senators may apply for assistance with preserving their archives …. In his role as Chairman of Appropriations, he saw a problem that had been identified by the Secretary of the Senate and was able to provide resources to solve it.” 

(Of course, with a federal deficit soon pushing $30 trillion, there actually are no extra resources available for the Chairman’s set aside.)

When asked if the Senator was planning to use these funds to support the archiving of his own Senatorial papers, the Senator’s Appropriations Committee spokesman replied, “Yes, if it is made available the Senator intends to apply to use some of these funds to support archiving his official papers.” And he noted, “This is an investment in the preservation and study of our country’s legislative history.” 

Out of the $23 million set aside in the Senate’s funding bill for the Secretary of the Senate, the Appropriations Committee explains what $10 million is supposed to be spent on:

Page 19 of the “Explanatory Statement” says:

“As with the past two fiscal years, the Committee notes the continuing importance of preserving the records of currently serving Senators to ensure a full historical record of a Senator’s service. …The Committee recognizes the significant burdens and challenges that archiving efforts place on Senators’ offices and provides $10,000,000 to assist with the proper archiving of official records. The funding made available by this provision may be used …in providing additional records management support to offices, further develop training programs to guide staff on record-keeping procedures, and award preservation partnership grants to educational institutions chosen to serve as repositories of Senators’ records” (emphasis added).

Did you catch that: “burdens” on United States Senators to archive their files? 

Retiring Republican Senators Richard Shelby (AL) and Roy Blunt (MO) also sit on the committee overseeing this funding bill setting aside funds for Senators’ retirement libraries. Seems a little conflict of interest-y. 

In total, six Senators have announced their upcoming retirement: 

  • Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL)
  • Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  • Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)
  • Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA)

Including Senator Leahy’s library detailed above, OpenTheBooks.com auditors found library collections planned or announced by three of these six retiring Senators.

The Richard Burr Center for Legislative Studies and a Library Donation

In 2018, four years before he was set to retire, and two years after he said he would retire, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) announced he was donating his congressional papers to a special library at Wake Forest, which in turn reported it was working on a new “Richard Burr Center.” 

Burr came under scrutiny after he made 33 transactions in one day in February 2020 selling off $628,000 to $1.7 million in stocks (up to 75-percent of his entire investment portfolio), including stocks in several companies vulnerable to economic downturns from a pandemic, such as hotel chains. While he was selling stocks he was getting daily COVID-19 briefings as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

The DOJ and the SEC investigated charges of insider trading against Burr and declined to press charges. However, in the wake of the scrutiny, Sen. Burr stepped down from his role as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in May of 2020. 

But that hasn’t stopped Wake Forest from going forward with a “Burr Center for Legislative Studies,” where the school currently notes, “In appreciation of Burr’s achievements, character and honorable representation of his district, state and alma mater, Wake Forest University will create and sustain an educational program with a distinct and meaningful impact for students, alumni and citizens.”

The Burr Center presumably would be eligible for a portion of the Leahy $10 million Senator records set aside, if it is signed into law.

Burr did not respond to our request for comment. 

Sen. Shelby’s Senatorial Library

Senator Shelby (R-AL), who was elected to the Senate in 1986, announced last month that his Senate records are going to the University of Alabama, his alma mater. The university was the recipient of many Shelby-backed Congressional earmarks over the years.

Could part of this earmark, if signed into law, go to the Senator’s alma mater? 

Shelby’s office told the Capitol Hill-focused publication, Punchbowl News, which first reported the archive earmark, that Sen. Shelby does not support the Senatorial papers set aside and did not request its inclusion in the funding bill he oversees as the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee. 

Shelby did not respond to our request for comment. No mention was made if the Senator would object to his future library taking archive funds.

Conclusion

No word yet on whether U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriators will agree to the Senate set-aside or if the provision will even pass the Senate and get signed into law. 

The bill and this provision ultimately may end up in a large, thousand-of pages, omnibus spending package, as has happened in previous years. (The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution through February 18, 2022.)

What is known is that Senators who drafted the provision think the “burden” of packing their offices up for retirement—after getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in salaries and benefits—merits a $10 million retirement gift from hardworking American taxpayers. 

Now that, as the late-Senator Coburn might say, takes gumption.

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