What Is Pork Barrel Legislation?

Pork barrel legislation refers to laws that are passed for projects that are so specialized that they don't serve the interests of the common citizen; generally, the laws are enacted as a way to keep resources or money in a local district and are promoted by that district's representatives. Pork barrel spending is usually heatedly discussed during election debates, due to the covert way that it is typically disguised inside other pieces of legislation.

Pork barrel spending is often used as a tactic to win re-election. For example, a legislator might jockey to pass a bill that has earmarked funds hidden in its language that keeps an obsolete military installation open because it's a popular wish of the people he or she represents.

One alleged pork barrel project in Massachusetts features relocating a 3.5-mile stretch of highway underground. The project, which is referred to as the "Big Dig," cost U.S. taxpayers $14.6 billion to complete, The tunnel was deemed unnecessary by many detractors of the project.

Perhaps more well-known is Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere," which was proposed to provide a bridge to Gravina Island, home to 50 residents, at a cost of $398 million. Some pork barrel spending borders on the absurd, including $84,000 appropriated to study why people fall in love and $1 million to study why people do not ride bikes to work.