EXCLUSIVE: House Freedom Caucus Members Got Earmarks Despite Caucus's Past Opposition

Cawthorn, Griffith, Higgins among those who requested funding

EXCLUSIVE: House Freedom Caucus Members Got Earmarks Despite Caucus's Past Opposition
In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, North Carolina congressional nominee Madison Cawthorn addresses the virtual convention on Aug. 26, 2020. (Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)
Nathan Worcester

Data from the Bipartisan Policy Center reveal that congressmen in the House Freedom Caucus requested earmarks in last month’s omnibus bill—a move at odds with the conservative caucus’s critical previous statements on earmarks, but possibly in line with private discussions among its members.

“Earmarks are the currency of corruption. The @freedomcaucus opposes earmarks, whether in the 117th Congress or any future Congress,” the House Freedom Caucus’s official Twitter account wrote in February 2021, shortly before the 2011 moratorium on earmarking came to an end.

It later followed up with a March Tweet emphasizing the bloc’s anti-earmarking stance.

“We shouldn't revive the culture of buying votes on bad legislation with bribes to member districts,” wrote House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) in response to that Tweet. Data from the Bipartisan Policy Center show Rosendale did not request earmarks, also known as congressionally directed spending or Community Project Funding (CPF).

Others affiliated with the House Freedom Caucus who did not request earmarks include Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).

Yet, at least a few House members with connections to the caucus did in fact ask for discretionary funds through the earmarking process.

The House Freedom Caucus is a congressional caucus consisting of conservative Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Earmarks 'Not a Hill to Die On'

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), whose website signals an affiliation with the House Freedom Caucus, requested four earmarks that totaled $21.5 million, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The largest request was $10 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Southwest Coastal Louisiana Hurricane Protection in Louisiana, adding to $125 million for that project obtained through last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill.

He also obtained $5.25 million for the “Vermilion Safe Room,” described as an emergency operation center and communication district headquarters for Vermilion Parish, Louisiana.

In addition, he obtained $5 million for the University Avenue Corridor in Lafayette, Louisiana, home to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The campaign data website Open Secrets shows that Higgins received $16,600 from the House Freedom Fund in 2021 and 2022.

Higgins told The Epoch Times via email that, while he pushed back against earmarks last year, they are now within the scope of House funding mechanisms. He also referenced private internal debates in the caucus over the earmarking issue.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the House Freedom Caucus for more information on those discussions.

"I operate my office within the parameters of the House rules. Further debates inside the House Freedom Caucus regarding how individual Members would deal with the rule changes remain private, but I was involved in those debates as well and I respect my House Freedom Caucus colleagues’ positions," Higgins said.

“It’s interesting to me, however, that as the world burns, anyone would prioritize a House funding mechanism rules change as a threatening issue. America’s sovereignty disintegrates at our southern border, inflation is driving families to ruin, the White House’s energy policy is destroying our independence, our Executive Branch is eaten from within by scandal, and our inaugurated President cannot put a sentence together without a team of handlers," he added.

“CPF is not a hill to die on. We have much, much bigger challenges to overcome.”

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), who referred to his “[Freedom Caucus] colleagues” as recently as a March 30 Tweet, requested five earmarks worth over $6 million, the Bipartisan Policy Center data showed.

The largest of them was a $2 million earmark for a social services organization known as People Incorporated of Virginia, for the Trammel Community Revitalization Project in rural Dickenson County, Virginia.

The House Freedom Fund has so far been Griffith’s top contributor in the 2021-2022 election cycle, at $10,800 according to Open Secrets.
Griffith told The Epoch Times that he favors earmarks under the terms of the current program, which the House Appropriations Committee has said are limited to "no more than 1 percent of discretionary spending," and which include new transparency measures.

"I am a member of the Freedom Caucus, but I part ways with it on this particular issue. The Constitution extends to Congress the power of the purse. The current program does not expand federal spending but gives Congress the opportunity to weigh in on less than one percent of federal expenditures. Banning earmarks merely empowers the executive branch to spend the money as it sees fit," Griffith said in an email to The Epoch Times.

"Without earmarks, the needs of rural areas far from the capital will be overlooked by bureaucrats making many of the spending decisions," he added.

In addition, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), the freshman congressman who joined the House Freedom Caucus in October 2021, requested seven earmarks worth $1,655,250, the data revealed.

The largest earmark was $1 million, for the Safelight Child Advocacy Center.

The Epoch Times has reached out to Cawthorn for comment.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), who received more than $92,000 during the 2018 election cycle from the House Freedom Fund per OpenSecrets, which tracks data on campaign finance and lobbying, requested nine earmarks worth over $15.9 million, including environmental and water development funding.

While Steube did enjoy financial backing from the House Freedom Fund in the past, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported in 2019 that Steube had not joined the House Freedom Caucus.

His website does not appear to list any caucus memberships.

The Epoch Times has reached out to Steube to determine whether he is affiliated with the House Freedom Caucus.

The Epoch Times has also reached out to the House Freedom Caucus for additional comment.

Nathan Worcester covers national politics for The Epoch Times and has also focused on energy and the environment. Nathan has written about everything from fusion energy and ESG to Biden's classified documents and international conservative politics. He lives and works in Chicago. Nathan can be reached at nathan.worcester@epochtimes.us.