Congressional earmarks are back! Illinois delegation — except for one member — hauls in federal cash

The push to bring earmarks back was bipartisan. Said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., “Republicans want to be relevant in their districts too.”

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Senate Majority Leader Schumer Holds a Press Conference

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., urged Congress to bring back earmarks — projects specifically requested by members.

Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Congressional earmarks are back. And Illinois is better off for them. There is nothing wrong with a House or Senate member transparently requesting federal money for a local project.

A $1.5 trillion omnibus 2022 spending bill is heading to President Joe Biden to sign after the Senate on Thursday approved legislation with specific projects — known as earmarks — recommended by House and Senate members. Illinois will get more than $200 million in federal money for projects, big and small.

Here’s just a sampling of earmark projects from Chicago-area Illinois House members. I’ll have more examples below.

Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats, got $1 million for the CTA to improve the State/Lake El station, part of the $200 million plus package of projects the senators got in the bill.

The senators, plus multiple members requested money to bolster police departments in Chicago and other localities as well as funding at selected schools for the Chicago Public Schools arts revitalization initiative.

Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, got $1 million for Lincoln Park Zoo improvements; $1 million to improve disabled access in Lincoln Park; and $1 million for the Center on Halsted’s youth housing program assisting LGBTQ+ youths.

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky got $450,000 for the Evanston YWCA domestic violence shelter and $600,000 for the Evanston/Skokie District 65, teacher residency program.

Democratic Rep. Robin Kelly got $400,000 for suburban Harvey to address residential blight reduction and $600,000 for Franciscan Health in Olympia Fields, behavioral health telemedicine project.

Democrat Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia got $2 million for the Latino United Community Housing Association’s Humboldt Park Affordable Housing program and $1 million for the Southwest Organizing Project “reclaiming southwest Chicago” program.

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger got $660,000 for a Northern Illinois University project dealing with weather and climate risks to agriculture.

Democrat Brad Schneider got $7.7 million for the North Chicago Storm Sewer project and $3 million to revitalize Waukegan’s Carnegie Library.


Earmarks were banned in 2011, after a series of stories about earmark abuse — including the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska.

Now earmarks are back, bridging the deep partisan divide. Many Republicans and most Democrats are in rare agreement that they know the needs of states and districts better than workers in federal agencies.

House members made requests for no more than 10 projects last May.

Members had to document the need for each earmark they requested. Not every member got all their requests. Members also had to declare in writing that they had no financial interest in their earmarks. All requests were posted on member websites.


All 13 Illinois House Democrats requested projects. Four of the five Illinois House Republicans also asked for earmarks.

Freshman Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., is the only Illinois member to not apply for any earmarks. She joined her Freedom Caucus colleagues in objecting to the revival of earmarks. Once they became available, she didn’t apply for any.

That denied her district — based in southern Illinois — a lot of federal money for worthy projects.

Securing an earmark was not contingent on voting for the bill. A member could apply for earmarks last May, vote against the legislation a few days ago and still get federal project funding.

Miller is locked in a June GOP primary with Rep. Rodney Davis. Davis, among other earmarks, got $1 million for security screening improvements at Willard Airport in Champaign and $3 million for the city of Gillespie.

The omnibus legislation was divided into two votes. Davis and Miller voted against the part of the bill with much of the domestic spending and yes for the defense and Ukraine assistance portion. Both bills had earmarks in them.

I asked Durbin about the re-emergence of earmarks Friday. Durbin was against ending earmarks.

Durbin noted the $575,000 he got for Illinois state police — to buy, in case of a terrorist attack, a robot capable of identifying explosive hazards or hazardous materials. “I got the money in there for them, and I’ll stand up and defend it anytime that anyone asks.”

Quigley noted when we talked Sunday that earmarks don’t increase spending.

“All that earmarks do is allow individual members to target spending within the district,” he said.

He also underscored the push to bring them back was bipartisan. Said Quigley, “Republicans want to be relevant in their districts too.”


Here are more earmarks. This is far from a complete list.

Durbin/Duckworth: $1 million to the Shedd Aquarium, in partnership with the Chicago Park District, to deal with the “polluted ecosystem” on the South Branch of the Chicago River; $500,000 to the Heartland Alliance’s READI Chicago violence reduction initiative.

Rep. Danny Davis: $621,000 for the Maywood alternative policing strategies program; $696,000 to the Rush University Medical Center for information technology training.

Rep. Bill Foster: $3 million for the Joliet Area Historical Museum rehabilitation of the Old Joliet Prison historic site.

Rep. Lauren Underwood: $350,000 to the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office for a pre-arrest diversion initiative.

Rep. Marie Newman: $500,000 for the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago Summit Community Center.

Rep. Sean Casten, $785,000 to the Village of Burr Ridge for stormwater management Improvements.

Rep. Bobby Rush: $300,000 for the Illinois College of Optometry to treat patients with glaucoma; $20,000 for to the Christian Community Health Center to purchase ultrasound imaging technology.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi: $150,000 for Village of Hoffman Estates Domestic Violence Project and $225,000 for the Wood Dale Public Library.


Durbin secured $52 million for the General Services Administration to raze buildings on South State Street adjacent to the Dirksen Federal Building. The federal government bought the structures to enhance security for Dirksen.

Preservation Chicago is fighting to keep the Century Building, designed by Holabird and Roche, and the Consumers Building, designed by Jenney, Mundie & Jensen.

The group said in a tweet, “GSA: Use the Federal Funds to RESTORE, NOT DEMOLISH the Century and Consumers Buildings!”

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