Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, an original pork-buster and friend of reason, has just launched Pork Parade. The spare-looking site is a hub for a number of social networks that let the congressman name and shame earmarks in real time, from his campaign cell phone (although he's been using his campaign computer until he upgrades his phone). Anyone who looks for junk in the budget and tags his/her Twitter.com messages with #pork is linked up with Flake's efforts; their messages appear on the Pork Parade feed.
I had a quick chat with Flake just now to find out a little more about this.
reason: In a nutshell, what do you want to achieve with this?
Jeff Flake: It's a great way to get more people involved in exposing earmarks. I'm going to floor right now to challenge another John Murtha eamark, for example, and I can alert everyone who's following me what I'm doing and why I'm challenging it. Once you let people know, that generate phone calls and activity that lets other people know.
reason: Did this idea come out of [Texas Rep.] John Culberson's twittering during the drilling protest?
Flake: That was the first I heard of Twitter, actually. Of course, now we're all… twitterpated. The earmark issue is a great use for this. What we've missed, up to now, is quick action where people can hear about these earmarks right away.
reason: What's an instance, from the last few years, when this social networking stuff could have delivered a victory for you?
Flake: People have been made more aware over last couple years, generally, about earmarks. We've been able to apply pressure with e-mails, with blog posts. This allows you to get the message out more quickly. Next week I'm challenging a Pelosi defense earmark that would pay for the Presidio historic site in San Francisco. If you had hundreds of people saying they want it out, that helps, and it helps even more if you can do it instantly. In last couple years I've had occasions, where I published list of earmarks I was going to challenge and seen congressmen run down to the floor to remove their eamarks and save face.
reason: The knock on "pork-busting" is that these earmarks are such a small portion of the budget. Could you use this tech, eventually, to attack other items in the budget that cost more money, or other bills?
Flake: There will be other efforts. This is a way to put individuals on notice, and letting them see how many people you can get to take action against over-spending. It goes far beyond earmarks, but you've got to build up the support and the infrastructure for this kind of action first.