Among the many faults with WAMs, perhaps the most egregious is that taxpayers can never figure out where this money is going. For example, you wont find anything in HR 1614 about a minor league hockey rink in Allentown. You will only see a new program called the “Neighborhood Improvement Zone,” which is so narrowly defined that only Allentown fits the definition. Last year we estimated $201 million in discretionary funds that could be listed at WAMs. But this amount is only indicative of the WAMs we could decipher.
But consider this statement on Sen. Daylin Leach’s blog, who says (while defending WAMs) that “I can’t promise there has never been an abuse of the system in some way.”
Is he joking? Not only could he “not promise there hasn’t been abuse”, he could even be forthright enough to say there has been – lawmakers have been been caught doing so. Sen. Vincent Fumo was convicted and Rep. Michael Veon was indicted for using WAM grants for personal gain.
Tom Potts in the Democracy Rising newsletter says that WAMs – as defined by Leach – would be unconstitutional because of a 1995 court decision calling into question the lawfulness of any disbursement from the “Legislative Initiative Grants.”
Yet, WAMs are an integral part of the budget every year. And here’s why – WAMs are re-election tools! They exist because lawmakers can parade around displaying oversized checks to their constituents. And WAMs are used by legislative leaders (who control the accounts) to buy votes from rank-and-file lawmakers.
Leach tends to disagree, arguing that there are more powerful tools to aid reelection than these grants (while at the same time, celebrating the WAMs he has gotten for his district). But incumbents rely on publicity from grants helping them in subsequent elections.