Pork barrel spending

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The term pork barrel, is a political metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for projects that are intended primarily to benefit particular constituents or campaign contributors. This usage originated in American English with reference to gifts of salt pork in a barrel by slave-owners to their slaves.


Pork barrel politics refers to government 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. The term originated early in American history, when slaves were sometimes given a barrel of salt pork as a reward, and had to compete among themselves to get their share of the handout.[1][2] Typically it 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 and agricultural subsidies are the most commonly cited examples, but they do not exhaust the possibilities.[3] Pork barrel spending is often allocated through last-minute additions to appropriation bills. A politician who supplies his or her constituents with considerable funding is said to be "bringing home the bacon."

In 1991, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Congressional Porkbusters Coalition developed seven criteria for a project to qualify as pork:

  • 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.[4]


  1. The Lanahan Readings in the American Polity, 3rd Edition
  2. Cooke, Alistair (29 December 2003). "Pork barrel politics". Letter from America. BBC Radio 4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/letter_from_america/3354949.stm. Retrieved on 2008-04-02. 
  3. for example: economist and three-term U.S. senator Paul H. Douglas wrote: "Each year (Senator Kenneth) McKellar's great hour came when he brought up his Rivers and Harbors Appropriations bill, universally known as 'the pork barrel.'" - Douglas, Paul H. (1971). In the Fullness of Time. New York: Harcout Brace Javonanovich, Inc, page 252. 
  4. Citizens Against Government Waste

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