WASHINGTON — Citing a new era of "sunlight and transparency," Alaska's congressional delegation will begin disclosing every request from the state for specially earmarked federal money. A $20 million earmark sought by the Mat-Su Borough for a ferry project? A $15 million allocation for dredging in the Port of Anchorage? $1.6 million for National Weather Service data buoys in Alaska?
Each request for money will now be listed on the individual Web sites of the state's two senators and one congressman.
"We just need to provide that visibility to the voters of Alaska," said Mike Anderson, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Don Young.
Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republcian and the top appropriator who pulled down nearly a half-billion dollars in earmarks last year, has never been that shy about disclosing how much he landed for his home state.
Neither has Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young, who famously bragged about stuffing a spending bill like a turkey.
But full disclosure of who's actually asking for the money is relatively new, although not unique to the Alaska delegation.
More than 100 members of the House and Senate either don't accept earmarks — or if they do, they fully disclose all requests they get.
"It's certainly not the majority of Congress, but it's certainly a growing number," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonprofit Washington D.C.-based watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense.
"From our perspective, constituents have a right to know how their lawmakers ask to spend their money."
Critics say earmarks are often poorly justified or publicized budget allocations that allow powerful lawmakers — and not need or merit — to dictate spending, often on pet projects.
One of Young's most infamous earmarks, for a road in Florida when he oversaw a national transportation spending bill, has drawn FBI scrutiny.
President Bush has weighed in, too, saying that earmarks undermine the public's trust in government; he vowed in his State of the Union address to veto any future spending bills Congress sends him that do not "cut the number and cost of earmarks in half."
Stevens decided to begin disclosing earmarks after persistent questions from constituents while he was home in Alaska last week, said spokesman Aaron Saunders. The rest of the delegation decided to follow suit.
And they also want to show how many of the earmarks are coming from the administration of Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican who has vowed to cut the number of earmarks sought by state agencies.
"The whole idea is to try and have people understand, those who want to ask us for money, have them understand how many other people are asking and to really have people here understand that we're not dreaming these up," Stevens said.
Stevens said he was getting feedback that "these earmarks came from nowhere, and that we had not gone public with them," and he decided that it would be best to show people exactly what he was asking for.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski gets as many as 500 requests a year from local governments and organizations in Alaska, said spokeswoman Anne Johnson.
And because she doesn't sit on an appropriations committee, Murkowski often picks just two dozen or so that she'll try to get money for. Putting those requests online allows people to see how truly needy the state is, Murkowski said.
"By posting appropriations requests on our Web site we can demonstrate the real needs that local communities and organizations have identified across the state," Murkowski said.
But one thing that's missing is an explanation of how they decide who gets money, Ellis said.
In the past, many lawmakers have objected to disclosing the requests because they don't want to show who applied and didn't make the cut.
"What they edit it down to is important, too," Ellis said. "They have (no) control over what people ask them for. They have every ounce of control over what they ask for."