The Pork Butterfly Effect

Porkbuster weiners Glenn Reynolds and Ed Morrissey are hyping alleged windfall profits by GOP congressmen Dennis Hastert, Ken Calvert, and Gary Miller they received after selling property proximate to highway projects they have championed in Congress… if by “proximate” you mean “possibly within the same county”:

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) made a $2 million profit last year on the sale of land 5 1/2 miles from a highway project that he helped to finance with targeted federal funds.

A Republican House member from California [Calvert], meanwhile, received nearly double what he paid for a four-acre parcel near an Air Force base after securing $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles away. And another California GOP congressman [Miller] obtained funding in last year’s highway bill for street improvements near a planned residential and commercial development that he co-owns.

Only in Miller’s case is there evidence that the highway project directly benefitted his property values–and in that case, the proposed improvements were still a mile away from his property. In all three cases, the Members in question were hardly the only people who were likely to benefit from these projects. Granted, politicians of all stripes seem often to be in position to profit from land deals and investment opportunities unavailable to the ordinary citizen, but these particular examples are so tenuous as to be risible.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics, , , , ,
Chris Lawrence
About Chris Lawrence
Chris teaches political science at Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia. He has a Ph.D. in political science (with concentrations in American politics and political methodology) from the University of Mississippi. He began writing for OTB in June 2006. Follow him on Twitter @lordsutch.


  1. Bhoe says:

    hyping alleged windfall profits by GOP congressmen Dennis Hastert, Ken Calvert, and Gary Miller

    Why do you call the profits “alleged”? Hastert invested $11,0000/acre in the Kendall County property in 2002 and sold it three years later @ $36,000. That sure sounds like a windfall to me!

  2. Steven Plunk says:

    Without looking deeply at traffic patterns and the effect each project would have it is hard to say how much benefit would be derived the construction.

    Many highway projects create gateways to areas previously less accessible. Zoning changes that go along with the new mobility may also increase values.

    Highway construction can also lead to other infrastructure improvements that cover a wider area and improve the fortunes of people many miles away.

    In short, much more information must be obtained before any conclusions should result. That would include the guilt of the congressman or the risibility of the suspicions. Citizen checks such as this are a good thing and should be encourage.

    Reynold’s pointing out of the Post’s story is not really his accusation just a notice to his readers about the story. If that is how we become wieners, by alerting others to facts, then count all of us as such.

  3. Bhoe,

    So someone who purchased cattle futures and then sold them at a very good profit would also by definition be corrupt?

    Pork, almost by definition, is what representatives bring home to their districts/states. I suspect every state has rules about representatives living in the districts they represent. While some districts are as bis as the state, many are much smaller. So some pork road/improvement coming in is likely to be near the representatives home.

    Can this be a way for representatives to profit unduly or reward those who pay them or some other less than wonderful thing? Sure. Does it mean that every pork project is both to curry favor with the voters and to enrich the representative? no. Unless you restrict any legislator from making any commercial transaction (real estate, stocks, etc) there can be the appearance of impropriety. While it would be great to hold them to the level of Ceaser’s wife, we tend to be more practical than that.

    Jeffords was caught the old fashioned way. I would have no problem with the FBI noticing this sort of behavior and seeing if a bit of bait dangling would attract anyone.

    This problem is in West Virginia and California.

  4. Andy Vance says:

    A babe in the woods. So sweet. So innocent.

    Take a look at this map. The development, an exurb of Chicago, will be in the second-fastest growing county in the nation. The thick green line is the parkway Hastert funded with his earmark, feeding into I-80 and I-88. The Miller Road property was part of Hastert’s payoff from the first deal.

    It just so happens that an interchange recently added to the plans will feed into the same road as the new development, 2-1/2 miles away and 4-1/2 miles from the Miller Rd. property.

    But it’s all just a coinkydink, I’m sure.

  5. Scott_T says:

    Hey I live in Calvert’s district, and while he did bring home funding to pay for the freeway improvements (they weren’t going to get done on CALTRAN’s dime alone) I commend him for that, but that Washington Post’s article say he got $1.5M for “commercial businesses” around March AFB I just have to say “WTF?” businesses don’t need the help around March AFB as the whole area is growing by leaps and bounds and new homes popping up on empty farmland and hillsides.

    That $1.5M should of gone to the local schools which are overflowing because of all the new students (but Federal dollars for City schools in a transportation bill, I hope not)

  6. Andy Vance says:

    Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics
    by Senator Plunkitt of Tammany Hall

    EVERYBODY is talkin’ these days about Tammany men growin’ rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I’ve made a big fortune out of the game, and I’m gettin’ richer every day, but I’ve not gone in for dishonest graft – blackmailin’ gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. – and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.

    There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

    Just let me explain by examples. My party’s in power in the city, and it’s goin’ to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I’m tipped off, say, that they’re going to layout a new park at a certain place. I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.
    Ain’t it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? of course, it is. Well, that’s honest graft.

  7. Jane says:

    Everybody says that his party is gonna take care of public welfare but the thing is who will actually do it…

  8. Eric says:

    Well, the bigger issue here is why elected officials aren’t forthcoming about their investments. For example, the way Dennis Hastert filled out his form, you’d never know what land he bought and sold, nor did he disclose that he was involve in a trust, even though the House ethics manual says the disclosure form should list such things. Is it illegal? Probably not. Does it corrupt the relationship between lawmaker and the represented, which should be completely open and honest? Yes! So, anyway, the point is that this happens a lot. Bill Allison, at the Sunlight Foundation, who broke the story on Hastert, is looking for help from citizen journalists to pour through the 534 other forms out there. If you want to help on a specific member, visit his blog at

  9. McGehee says:

    Well, the bigger issue here is why elected officials aren�t forthcoming about their investments.

    Actually, the bigger issue here is why members of Congress have this kind of power to begin with. We have never needed a full-time Congress that can micro-manage where a state highway department (the federal government doesn’t build interstates, it only funds them) puts its roads and interchanges.