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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pork barrel is a derogatory term referring to appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative's district. The usage originated in American English.[1]



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 the 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.[2] 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.[3] 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, which reported on certain legislative acts known to members of Congress as "pork barrel bills". He claimed 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.[4] More generally, a barrel of 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."[5]


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.

Citizens Against Government Waste[6] outlines seven criteria by which spending can be classified as "pork":

  1. Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
  2. Not specifically authorized;
  3. Not competitively awarded;
  4. Not requested by the President;
  5. Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
  6. Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
  7. Serves only a local or special interest.


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 Eastern and Southern 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 alleged pork-barrel projects was the Big Dig in Boston, Massachusetts. The Big Dig was a project to take an existing 3.5-mile (5.6 km) interstate highway and relocate it underground. It ended up costing US$14.6 billion, or over US$4 billion per mile.[7] Tip O'Neill (D-Mass), after whom one of the Big Dig tunnels was named, pushed to have the Big Dig funded by the federal government while he was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.[citation needed]

During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, the Gravina Island Bridge (also known as the "Bridge to Nowhere") in Alaska was cited as an example of pork barrel spending. The bridge, pushed for by Republican Senator Ted Stevens, was projected to cost $398 million and would connect the island's 50 residents and the Ketchikan International Airport to Revillagigedo Island and Ketchikan.[8]

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 the Philippines, the term is commonly used in politics. Filipino legislators are allocated large sums of the annual national budget (200 million pesos for each senator and 70 million for each representative) in a program called the Priority Development Assistance Fund. Politicians are often accused of misusing their allocations for selfish purposes, particularly through "kickbacks" and commissions from their projects.[9]

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 (valgflæsk), Swedish (valfläsk) and Norwegian (valgflesk), where they mean promises made before an election, often by a politician who has little intention of fulfilling them.[10]

The Finnish political jargon uses siltarumpupolitiikka (culvert politics) in reference to national politicians concentrating on small local matters, and Romanians speak of pomeni electorale (literally, "electoral alms"), while the Polish kiełbasa wyborcza means literally "election sausage". The Czech 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; metaphorically, it stands for any populistic political decisions that are taken before the elections with the aim of obtaining more votes. The process of diverting budget funds in favor of a project in a particular constituency is called porcování medvěda ("portioning of the bear") in Czech usage.[11]

The term is rarely used in British English, although similar terms exist: election sweetener, tax sweetener, or just sweetener.[12] The term is frequently used in Australian politics.[13][14]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ The story first appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Jan. 24 and Jan. 31, 1863. Hale, Edward Everett (1910), The Children of the Public, The Man without a Country and Other Tales, Macmillan, pp. 97–175 
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, pork barrel, draft revision June 2008. Retrieved October 22, 2008.
  4. ^ Maxey, Chester Collins (1919), National Municipal Review; "A Little History of Pork", National Municipal League, p. 691, et seq,,M1 
  5. ^ Quoted in: Volo, James M.; Volo, Dorothy Denneen (2004), The Antebellum Period, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 170, ISBN 0313325189 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Big Dig failures threaten federal funding - The Boston Globe
  8. ^
  9. ^ http:
  10. ^ Nationalencyklopedin, NE Nationalencyklopedin AB. Article Valfläsk
  11. ^
  12. ^ Brown warned on pre-election tax 'sweeteners' - The Independent
  13. ^ The Australian: PM rolls out his own pork barrel
  14. ^ SMH: Vaile in last-ditch pork barrel

Simple English

Pork Barrel is a word for when money is used during an election campaign to give benefits to a particular place, so the people who live there will vote for the politician. It is used as a negative term, and has recently been used to describe promises made before an election which will later be broken.


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