The New York Times describes several end runs around earmark bans that get money to lawmakers' pet projects less certainly but also less transparently. A "soft earmark" involves "making suggestions about where money should be directed, instead of explicitly instructing agencies to finance a project." A "lettermark" is a legislator's written request  to an agency for an expenditure; a "phonemark" is the same thing by telephone. While none of these requests is legally binding, agencies are loath to antagonize the legislators who approve their budgets, especially when they have added extra money with a specific project in mind. And unlike official earmarks, these indirect allocations are not explicitly tied to particular lawmakers in the text of legislation.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Citizens Against Government Waste discovered a September 2009 letter in which Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who will soon take a seat in the Senate, requested stimulus money for his district from the Education Department, despite his opposition to earmarks and pork-barrel spending. "Senator-elect Kirk became the first member of the Appropriations Committee to stop requesting earmarks and voted against the stimulus bill," a spokeswoman told the Times. "He has and will continue to be an advocate for his Illinois constituents before administration agencies but will not request Congressional earmarks to be included in House or Senate legislation."

Other examples of earmarks that are not disclosed because they are not considered earmarks:

The 2010 military bill...contained expenditures that the Pentagon did not want: $2.5 billion for C-17 transport planes; $825 million for all-terrain vehicles; $732 million for other planes, and $500 million for a second engine for the F-35 jet.

Taxpayers for Common Sense found 146 such undisclosed earmarks totaling nearly $6 billion in 2010 spending bills.