WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Sixteen U.S. lawmakers funneled money to companies, colleges or community programs where relatives work or are on boards, a Washington Post review indicated.
Lawmakers said their earmarks weren't intended to directly benefit their relatives or themselves but to help entities that employ, educate and help their constituents, the newspaper reported Wednesday.
In instances where the congressional members sought advice from committees that examine possible conflicts, they were told the practice was OK as long as the tax dollars weren't going directly to or solely benefiting their relatives, the Post said. Several lawmakers also certified to congressional panels they and their family members wouldn't gain from the earmark.
The Post analyzed public records on the holdings of all 535 House and Senate members then compared them with earmarks sought for pet projects, most of them since 2008 after reporting rules changed. Besides the 16 instances involving relatives, the analysis found 33 members drove funding to public projects near their commercial or personal property.
Watchdog groups told the Post congressional members have greater leeway concerning conflict-of-interest rules than the executive branch or people working in publicly held companies. They also noted that legislators establish and enforce their own rules.
"The executive branch has far stricter ethics standards than Congress does -- and Congress has set these standards," Craig Holman of Public Citizen told the Post. "The executive branch can't steer contracts or work to businesses where family members work. They can't even own stock in industries that they oversee, unlike Congress. It's complete hypocrisy."
The Post's review found members directly funded programs run by their children, earmarked money to organizations represented by lobbyist who were relatives and designated funds to colleges where their family members work or were board members.