We will say up top that singling out Idaho Senator Mike Crapo on the question of earmark information release, as the Anderson Cooper show did last night on CNN, isn't fair, on two grounds. One is that the bulk of U.S. senators of both parties take the same position - or at least hold the same bottom line - as Crapo does. The other reason is that Crapo picked up the notoriety because his press secretary was trying to helpful and explanatory, which shouldn't have earned a ding.
The larger point the program was making, though, is another matter, largely undiminished after we went through it this morning with Susan Wheeler, the press secretary. Let's run through this, and see whether most of the Senate (not Crapo alone) are right or wrong.
"Earmarks" are budget items specified for a particular purpose. A county, for example, might seek an earmark for federal funding for a park, or maybe a state seeks one for a health building. Or whatever. Certainly, private parties are interested in earmarks too.
For our purposes here, you can fit the earmarking process into three parts. There's the request from someone in-state to a member of Congress that their request be included for federal funding. The second stage comes as members of Congress and their staffs sift through these requests, and propose some of them to an appropriations committee or subcommittee for action. The third stage is the formal, public action by the committee to approve some of those requests (extending, of course, into further floor and committee action on the way to ultimate bill signing).
The third part of the earmarking process, at the committee level and beyond, is public, and there's no dispute about it. The first part of the process, which involves constituent communications (a category that also includes such things as constituent negotiations over Social Security payments), is commonly taken as a confidential communication, and there's not much dispute about that either (though we'll partially asterisk that and return to it below). The dispute concerns the second area - the work that the member of Congress and staff do before the committee acts on the proposal: Most senators, including Crapo, say information about what earmarks they propose to the committees should not be released to the public.
What gets left out of the process is any information about earmarks proposed but rejected by the committee, and about which senators proposed any of the earmarks at all.