Pork barrel

Pork barrel

In United States politics, the term "pork barrel" refers to the appropriation of government spending for projects that are intended primarily to benefit particular constituents, such as those in marginal seats or campaign contributors. This usage originated in American English.


The term "pork barrel politics" usually refers to spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes. In a popular 1863 story, "The Children of the Public," Edward Everett Hale used the term "pork barrel" as a homely metaphor for any form of public spending to the citizenry. [The story first appeared in "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper", Jan. 24 and Jan. 31, 1863. Citation
last = Hale
first = Edward Everett
author-link = Edward Everett Hale
title = The Children of the Public
volume = The Man without a Country and Other Tales
pages = 97-175
year = 1910
publisher = Macmillan
] After the American Civil War, however, the term came to be used in a derogatory sense. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the modern sense of the term from 1873.Fact|date=August 2007 By the 1870s, references to "pork" were common in Congress, and the term was further popularized by a 1919 article by Chester Collins Maxey in the "National Municipal Review" that reported certain legislative acts were known to members of Congress as "pork barrel bills," and claims that the phrase originated in a pre-Civil War practice of giving slaves a barrel of salt pork as a reward and requiring them to compete among themselves to get their share of the handout. [Citation
last = Maxey
first = Chester Collins
title = National Municipal Review; "A Little History of Pork"
publisher = National Municipal League
year = 1919
page = 691, "et seq"
url = http://books.google.com/books?id=IVEJAAAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA694&lpg=RA1-PA694&dq=%22pork+barrel%22+history+municipal&source=web&ots=sgmpb91mez&sig=tUk9Fw7xYsCVmjnl5ShuYQVXAyQ&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result#PRA1-PA691,M1
] More generally, a pork barrel (presumably holding the less-perishable salt pork) was a common larder item in 19th century households and could be used as a measure of the family's financial well-being. For example, in his 1845 novel "The Chainbearer", James Fenimore Cooper wrote "I hold a family to be in a desperate way, when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel." [Quoted in:Citation
last = Volo
first = James M.
last2 = Volo
first2 = Dorothy Denneen
title = The Antebellum Period
publisher = Greenwood Publishing Group
year = 2004
page = 170
isbn = 0313325189

Typically, "pork" involves funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers. Public works projects, certain national defense spending projects, and agricultural subsidies are the most commonly cited examples.


One of the earliest examples of pork barrel politics in the United States was the Bonus Bill of 1817, which was introduced by John C. Calhoun to construct highways linking the East and South of the United States to its Western frontier using the earnings bonus from the Second Bank of the United States. Calhoun argued for it using general welfare and post roads clauses of the United States Constitution. Although he approved of the economic development goal, President James Madison vetoed the bill as unconstitutional.

"1873 Defiance (Ohio) Democrat 13 Sept. 1/8:" "Recollecting their many previous visits to the public pork-barrel,..this hue-and-cry over the salary grab..puzzles quite as much as it alarms them."
"1896 Overland Monthly Sept. 370/2:" "Another illustration represents Mr. Ford in the act of hooking out a chunk of River and Harbor Pork out of a Congressional Pork Barrel valued at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
One of the most famous pork-barrel projects was the Big Dig in Boston, Massachusetts. The Big Dig was a project to take a pre-existing convert|3.5|mi|km|sing=on interstate highway and relocate it underground. It ended up costing US$14.6 billion, or over US$4 billion per mile. [ [http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/08/06/big_dig_failures_threaten_federal_funding/ Big Dig failures threaten federal funding - The Boston Globe ] ]

Pork-barrel projects, or "earmarks", are added to the federal budget by members of the appropriation committees of United States Congress. This allows delivery of federal funds to the local district or state of the appropriation committee member, often accommodating major campaign contributors. To a certain extent, a member of Congress is judged by their ability to deliver funds to their constituents. The Chairman and the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations are in a position to deliver significant benefits to their states.

Use of the term outside the United States

In other countries, the practice is often called patronage, but this word does not always imply corrupt or undesirable conduct. Similar expressions, meaning "election pork", are used in Danish (" _da. valgflæsk"), Swedish (" _sv. valfläsk") and Norwegian (" _no. valgflesk") where they mean promises made "before" an election, often by a politician who has little intention of fulfilling them. ["Nationalencyklopedin", NE Nationalencyklopedin AB. Article "Valfläsk"] The Polish " _pl. kiełbasa wyborcza" means literally "election sausage", while Finnish political jargon uses " _fi. vaalikarja" (election cattle). The Czech " _cz. předvolební guláš" (pre-election goulash) has similar meaning, referring to free dishes of goulash served to potential voters during election campaign meetings targeted at lower social classes, and metaphorically, it stands for any populistic political decisions that are taken before the elections with the aim of obtaining more votes. Although the term isn't used in British English, similar terms exist; "election sweetener", "tax sweetener" or just "sweetener". [ [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/brown-warned-on-preelection-tax-sweeteners-484599.html Brown warned on pre-election tax 'sweeteners' - The Independent] ] The term is frequently used in Australian politics [ [http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23801061-5013946,00.html The Australian: PM rolls out his own pork barrel] ] [ [http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/11/16/1194766968042.html SMH: Vaile in last-ditch pork barrel] ]

ee also

*Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006
*Golden Fleece Award

*Interest group


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • pork barrel — ˈpork ˌbarrel noun [singular, uncountable] informal disapproving a government plan to increase the amount of money spent in a particular area in order to gain a political advantage: • One person s pork barrel is another s essential local… …   Financial and business terms

  • pork-barrel — UK US noun [U] US INFORMAL ► POLITICS spending by politicians of large amounts of government money on projects in the areas they depend on for being elected in order to become more popular: »They viewed the huge amounts spent on community… …   Financial and business terms

  • pork barrel — pork .barrel n [singular, U] AmE informal a government plan to increase the amount of money spent in a particular area, done in order to gain a political advantage used to show disapproval ▪ pork barrel spending …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • pork barrel — pork ,barrel adjective AMERICAN INFORMAL pork barrel politics or spending uses government money to give benefits to people in a particular area, so that the politician who represents that area will be more popular …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • pork barrel — politics involves investing money in an area to get political support rather than using the money for the common good …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • pork barrel — pork barrel, adj. pork barreling, adj., n. Informal. a government appropriation, bill, or policy that supplies funds for local improvements designed to ingratiate legislators with their constituents. [1905 10, Amer.] * * * …   Universalium

  • pork barrel — ☆ pork barrel n. Informal government appropriations for political patronage, as for local improvements to please legislators constituents pork barreling n …   English World dictionary

  • pork barrel —    Pork barrel politics involves investing money in an area to get political support rather than using the money for the common good.   (Dorking School Dictionary) …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

  • Pork barrel —   Pork barrel politics involves investing money in an area to get political support rather than using the money for the common good …   Dictionary of English idioms

  • pork barrel — also pork barrel N SING: usu N n (disapproval) If you say that someone is using pork barrel politics, you mean that they are spending a lot of government money on a local project in order to win the votes of the people who live in that area.… …   English dictionary

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