Symptom of the Disease: Federal funds used for N.J. Hurricane Sandy relief

This is the kind of stuff that always comes up when the federal government steps in to provide funding to a local area with a bail out. New Jersey and Gov. Chris Christie is being investigated concerning how they spent federal dollars for a marketing campaign to promote the state and its shoreline.

Do you think this money was spent incorrectly by the state? Well, so do I and you can join me in the demand for this type of government graft to stop in the future. From CNN, with my emphasis.

CNN has learned that federal officials are investigating whether Christie improperly used some of that money to produce tourism ads that starred him and his family. …

In the new investigation, federal auditors will examine New Jersey’s use of $25 million in Sandy relief funds for a marketing campaign to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone told CNN

In an August letter, Pallone asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general to look into how Christie chose to spend the marketing money approved by the department.

This is using federal funding for local projects and I’m in the camp who think all such funding is unconstitutional. States can certainly spend money on such projects, but there is no such authorization in the Constitution. The federal government never got involved in local funding until the New Deal era. Actual and perceived abuses happen because we’ve given the federal government and Congress authority to spend and spend and spend, with no limits. It’s totally wrong, and it is the Disease from which all Symptoms are derived! It’s time to re-publish my general welfare post…

From Oct. 29, 2009 (yes, more than four years ago)…

(Article I, Section 8, Clause 1)
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excise, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States …

So, when referring to the general welfare, how broad are these purposes and are there limits to what can be defined as general welfare for the United States?

During the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Party opinion supported an expansive view of federal spending power as long as the duties and taxes collected were uniform throughout the country. This view is current doctrine for liberals around the country, resulting in federal spending being used for local programs that have nothing to do with the general (national) welfare.

To say the disagreement between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists – who favored limiting spending to national defense and national benefits – was one of the biggest debates amongst the Founders during the convention is an understatement. In Federalist 41, James Madison writes …

For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter.

Madison – joined by Thomas Jefferson for the anti-Federalists a.k.a. the Democratic-Republicans (or simply Republicans) – was clearly concerned about the use of the general phrase, which would lead to abuse. Why put in place strict limits on the federal government’s power – 17 of them in Section 8 – and then drop in two words – general welfare – that could be referenced for an expansive view of federal spending power?

Alexander Hamilton, for the Federalists, did support a more expansive view of spending power during the Constitutional Convention as long as the taxes collected were uniform. His opinion was rejected by the Founders, but later he proposed the general welfare phrase implied spending should not be exclusive to the 17 powers listed in Section 8, rather federal funding should be approved as long as it was for the national welfare.

Future examples would be Congress’ refusal to provide funds to rebuild Savannah, Georgia after a city-wide fire in 1820, a local benefit, and their approval of a lighthouse to be built at the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, a national benefit.

Certainly, by not sticking to the 17 powers listed, it becomes more difficult to determine what would be consideredgeneral (national) welfare versus what would be defined as local welfare. Where is the line drawn?

President James Monroe did have trouble drawing the line and found some local welfare projects appealing to him near the end of his term. President John Q. Adams continued to spend on local projects throughout his term, and the topic became quite the debate issue during his campaign with Andrew Jackson, who won the election and started vetoing excessive federal spending legislation.

For the first seven or eight decades after the Constitution was adopted, Madison and Jefferson’s interpretation of the spending clause held pretty firm, but that all changed during the New Deal era, where United States v. Butler clearly implied Congress had the ability to determine what could be considered general welfare.

Uhg. In the future, Butler would be referenced to support the expansive view of federal involvement in local spending like the installation of brick sidewalks and pretty street signs. The flood gates opened. The federal government became much more powerful. The people lost liberty and freedom.

This readers, is the specific cause of the disease. Once we expect Congress to spend money on local programs, congress-critters are rated on their ability to bring federal dollars back to their people. If you bring back $2 for every $1 that goes into the federal trough, you’ve stolen enough money from other states or districts to be sent back inside the beltway to get more.

What can be done at this point? The conservative’s current fight is simply to keep the federal government from taking more power in the form of health care and environmental legislation. By taking control of health care, taxing Americans for breathing, working and keeping their homes warm or cool, and taxing businesses resulting in increased costs of everything we consume, we fall off the steep ledge without a lifeline.

Our final stand must begin today. We’ve experienced the tipping point this year through the emergence of TEA Party efforts around the country, and once this fight is won, we must continue to incrementally move spending powers back to the states and the people. This fight may well last for generations, but are you willing to move forward, teach our children about liberty and freedom and embrace the genius of the Founders?

Everything depends on your personal interpretation of the Spending Clause and your willingness to reach out to friends, family and today’s leaders. What say you?

Steve McGough

Steve's a part-time conservative blogger. Steve grew up in Connecticut and has lived in Washington, D.C. and the Bahamas. He resides in Connecticut, where he’s comfortable six months of the year.


  1. Lynn on January 13, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Steve you make a concise, tight argument. In my mind, it is time for the states to repair damage from a disaster on their own. The Federal govt can allow states to use their National Guard to help. But states have no vested interest to keep up an emergency fund to repair a disaster area. They know the ?federal govt, ?like Superman, will fly in and rescue them with millions. At the very least, the state should have to repay the federal govt, if they received federal funds.

  2. WagTheDog on January 14, 2014 at 1:54 am

    I have to keep asking, how much of this is mudslinging, and how much is actual misuse of funds?? The Feds dropping money to help mitigate the cost of recovery is really part of “ensuring the welfare of the country”.? New Jersey wasn’t the only recipient of clean up funding.
    However, if it does come out that funds were misappropriated, then yes, that is the time for outrage.? I find it very odd (read convenient) that this is coming on the heels of the closing of the GW Bridge thing. ? Maybe there is something to this, maybe not.? Either way, helping a state out during a natural disaster is the right thing to do.? Otherwise, let’s get rid of the Constitution and reactivate the Articles of Confederation.

    • sammy22 on January 14, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      I agree with you.

    • Steve McGough on January 14, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      Read the first paragraph of my post. This was spending for a marketing campaign and not one dime of the $20+ million went to rebuild anything, other than building up Obama and Christie’s reputation. Indirect support? Sure, but where do you draw the line?

    • sammy22 on January 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      I re-read the first para, where it says that NJ and Gov. Christie are being investigated. How did Pres. Obama get into this spending for the marketing campaign? The Federal Government gave and the State of NJ and Gov. Christie spent it (it is alleged) inappropriately.

  3. Lynn on January 14, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Of course, this investigation is a direct hit by the Clinton wrecking ball. I regret that this issue will never be ?fairly examined, this practice has become standard practice by every politician. It is why incumbents rarely lose, they get free air time and daily press articles to keep them in the public eye. But, we must start somewhere to stop the outrageous spending. Does anyone understand we are Six trillion dollars in debt? As the people in Antiqua say to their politicians, “Where the money be gorn?”

  4. SeeingRed on January 14, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Quote: I?m in the camp who think all such funding is unconstitutional
    I’m with you and there are plenty of like-minded people here, but the fact of the matter is we have lost.? There are simply too many ‘voters’ (legal, illegal, dead, coerced-union, etc.) to keep the creeps in place?and practices like this alive.? Congress acts with impunity because in reality, and with very few examples otherwise, they can.? This?practice of spreading federal (graft) taxpayer $’s around?be changed right after they vote themselves $0 lifetime pensions and?vote for term limits.

  5. bien-pensant on January 14, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    I am definitely against using federal funds for any state’s projects. If some kind of definition is needed then that is it. A federally funded commercial by the governor of a state to promote itself is wrong.
    New Jersey should use its own money to repair the Sandy damage. It was only a small portion of the state that was effected by the hurricane. Atlantic City and points south were largely unaffected. Further north, there was more and more damage. How much federal money has Staten Island, New York, received? I don’t remember Obama chumming with Coumo or our own Dannel P. strutting with the One on a Fairfield County beach.
    It is just plain wrong for the Congress to give any state money to rebuild state and private concerns. Provide money for commercials? That is well down the path of total corruption and perverting the Constitution for individual gain.

  6. Plainvillian on January 15, 2014 at 8:51 am

    The federal system is clearly defined in the 10th amendment.? Does anyone at any level of government read the constitution?

    • bien-pensant on January 15, 2014 at 9:52 am

      I can just hear a chorus of “Huh?”, “Wadda ya mean?”, etc from the Washington Beltway Elite Bozos.
      When the snout is firmly into the trough, the only thought from the benefactors is “More.”
      IMHO, no, big government exists in part to only further itself and expand.

    • Anne-EH on January 21, 2014 at 9:57 am

      Doubt it PV, doubt it.


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