Pork Barrel Legislation Law & Legal Definition


Pork-barrel legislation refers to appropriations of public funds by Congress or other legislative bodies for pet projects that serve the interests local districts these legislators represent, rather than the interests of the larger population. Legislators vigorously promote such projects' funding because they will pump outside taxpayers' money and resources into the area they represent and is likely to earn political credit for the legislator that can be used to get re-elected by his/her constituents. Public works and agricultural subsides are often cited as examples of pork-barrel legislation. Other examples of such pork-barrel legislation include federal appropriations designed to prevent closure of obsolete or unneeded military installations, prisons, VA hospitals and the like.

What one legislator perceives as an important improvement for his district or state, another might view as an unfair distribution of federal funds. Those that use the term in a pejorative sense are critical of the fact that a specific project benefits only one district or region, and that similar benefits do not flow to other areas in the nation with similar needs. Criticism for pork barrel projects is often warranted because they fund programs that fail to meet national criteria, or are awarded without need first being demonstrated on a competitive basis. The term is derived from the practice of plantation owners who would often hand out rations of salt pork to their slaves, distributing them from wooden barrels.

Some of the criteria used to identify pork-barrel spending may include: 

·         Requested by only one chamber of Congress; 

·         Not specifically authorized; 

·         Not competitively awarded; 

·         Not requested by the President; 

·         Greatly exceeds the President's budget request or the previous year's funding; 

·         Not the subject of congressional hearings; or 

·         Serves only a local or special interest.