Rep. McCaul tackles ‘Monuments to Me’

Originally published by the Hearst wire service on March 12, 2011.

WASHINGTON — Our nation is littered with landmarks honoring incumbent lawmakers. There’s Mitch McConnell Park in Kentucky, named for the current Senate Republican leader, and the James E. Clyburn Golf Center in South Carolina, after the No. 3 House Democratic leader.

The late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., during his 52 years in office, had more than 30 public works named after him, including the Robert C. Byrd Federal Correctional Institution and the Robert C. Byrd Federal Courthouse.

But these vanity projects have an enemy in Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who introduced legislation this week to prevent sitting members of Congress from funneling federal funds toward projects with their names attached.

“These ‘monuments to me’ are among the most arrogant features of the earmark culture,” said McCaul, a former federal prosecutor in the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section. “They contribute to both political corruption and excessive spending.”

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., landed in hot water last year after he earmarked $1.9 million for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. He later was censured by his House colleagues for issues relating to the Rangel Center and his failure to pay taxes on property in the Dominican Republic.

Some argue that naming public facilities after sitting legislators amounts to a political advertisement that boosts name recognition — an advantage at the ballot box.
Several members of the Texas congressional delegation have facilities named for them back home, though they weren’t paid for with federal dollars.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, has the Gene Green Beltway 8 Park in Houston, where you can enjoy a kiddie spray park, tennis and basketball courts, a BMX freestyle course, dog runs and a skate park made from recycled materials.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, has an elementary school in Keller and a park in North Richland Hills named for her.

And Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, will have a lake named for him that is designed to provide for the future water needs of rapidly growing Collin and Denton counties.

Janet Poppleton, a spokeswoman for Hall, says he doesn’t know why he has a lake named after him, but he supports McCaul’s proposal. And Green says his involvement in his namesake park was limited to a Harris County commissioner asking his permission to use his name — “which I was happy to give,” he added.

This isn’t the first time McCaul, whose district includes parts of western Harris County, has attempted to tackle “monuments to me.” In 2008, the House passed an amendment by

McCaul that prohibited naming Veterans Affairs or military construction projects after sitting members. He proposed a similar bill in 2009 that would apply to all federal appropriations but it never came up for debate.

David Williams, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste, an anti-pork group, supports McCaul’s efforts — but wants to go even further.

“How about this for the next step: Taking names off of buildings if they are really serious about it,” he said.

Whatever its legislative fate, McCaul said he hopes the legislation resonates with the American people.

“The perception is that these projects receive special treatment because of the names they bear. When the American people see this it feeds the belief that members of Congress are out of touch with the people we represent,” he said.

“If we can’t fix the little obvious things like this, how are the people going to trust us on the big ones?”