Rep Jeff Flake explains in his most recent email about "circular fundraising":
Of all the 10,000+ earmarks approved by the U.S. Congress each year, none are more expensive, pernicious, and corrupting as the more than 2,000 earmarks in the defense bill. I suppose it's because Members of Congress assume no one will question their motives when it comes to defense spending. This attitude allowed former Congressman Duke Cunningham to earmark tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts to his buddies over a number of years. Gratefully, Duke now sits in federal prison for accepting cash payments in exchange for these earmarks.The Seattle Times has constructed a database of these circular earmarks:
In addition to being reprehensible, of course, the type of activity Duke Cunningham was involved in was illegal. It may surprise you to know what is not only legal, but actually quite common, when it comes to defense earmarks.
Members of Congress can earmark funds in the defense bill to go directly to companies in their state or district. No bidding or competition is required, as these are essentially no-bid contracts. Executives in these companies (and the lobbyists who represent them) can then turn around and make campaign contributions to the Member of Congress who secured the earmark. It's a practice I call "circular fundraising."
In the past, I've been able to raise concerns about circular fundraising when the defense appropriations bill came to the House floor for debate. Not this year. For the first time since I've been in Congress, the defense appropriations bill didn't even receive consideration from the appropriations committee, let alone come under scrutiny on the House floor. The 2,000+ earmarks in the defense appropriations bill were simply added to a "continuing resolution" that passed last month. No challenge or discussion of any of the earmarks was allowed. None.
Here is the database entry for each TN Rep and Senator: