Senate Chairs

Published — January 5, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Daniel Inouye — Senate Appropriations Committee (and Appropriations Defense Subcommittee)

“The Number One Earmarks Guy in the U.S. Congress”


Daniel Inouye, the 86-year-old Senate Appropriations Chairman, doesn’t shy away from his big-spending ways — he brags about it. “It may please you, or it may not please you,” he told business leaders in his home state of Hawaii in 2009, “I’m the number one earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress.”

Inouye lost his right arm while in combat in Italy during World War II — for which he received a Congressional Medal of Honor in 2000. Inouye has represented Hawaii in Congress since it became a state in 1959, first by serving two terms in the House and later winning nine terms in the Senate. He is currently the longest-tenured member of the Senate, where he has served since 1963, and holds the title of Senate President Pro Tempore, putting him third in the line of presidential succession.

Over his lengthy tenure, Inouye has chaired numerous committees. In 1976, he became the first chairman of the Senate’s intelligence panel. In 1987, he co-chaired the joint committee created to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. From 1989 to 1994 and from 2001 to 2003, he chaired the committee on Indian Affairs. As chair of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee from 2007 to 2008, he oversaw a wide range of areas in the communications, transportation, interstate commerce, consumer product regulation, technology, and even sports. There, he shepherded through the Broadband Data Improvement Act, a 2008 law aimed at making the Internet safe for children and available in underserved geographical areas.

When Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd announced in November 2008 that he would give up the gavel of the committee he’d served on for 50 years and chaired for 10, he cheered his replacement. “Sen. Daniel Inouye has stood in line for many years and now his time has come,” the late West Virginia Democrat said at the time. Inouye had indeed waited a long time for the position: he first joined the committee in 1971. He also heads the appropriations defense subcommittee, which oversees the largest individual component of federal discretionary spending — more than $658 billion in 2010.

Inouye has taken advantage of his perch on appropriations by steering enormous sums of money to projects in Hawaii and its roughly 1.3 million residents — his earmark total for 2008 to 2010 was over $1.25 billion, tops among the 12 Democratic chairmen in this analysis by the Center for Public Integrity. The self-described “King of Pork,” he has been a forceful defender of the earmarking system. Last November, he helped defeat a proposed two-year moratorium on congressionally directed funding, arguing that “eliminating earmarks would do virtually nothing to balance the federal budget.”

Perhaps because at different points in the past four years he chaired commerce and appropriations, he got significant campaign contributions from players in the communications industry and from government defense contractors. Both Boeing and Northrop Grumman, among Inouye’s largest PAC contributors, each received millions in 2010 defense earmarks — not specifically requested by Inouye but approved by his committee. Several of his former staffers have since become communications-sector lobbyists, but unlike his House defense appropriations subcommittee counterpart, it does not appear that Inouye has followed the late Rep. John Murtha’s lead in using “The Murtha Method” to provide earmarks to defense firms represented by former aides.

The office of Sen. Inouye did not respond to a request for comment.

Top PAC Contributors

  • Boeing Co., makers of commercial and military airplanes — at least $31,000
  • FedEx Corp., the shipping giant — at least $27,500
  • BNSF Railway Co., the railroad company formerly known as Burlington Northern Santa Fe — $27,000
  • General Electric Co., the global infrastructure, finance, and media conglomerate — at least $26,000
  • Comcast Corp., providers of cable and Internet — at least $25,000
  • Northrop Grumman Corp., a major defense contractor — at least $25,000
  • National Cable and Telecommunications Association, trade association for the cable industry — at least $25,000
  • PACs gave at least $ 1.9 million to Inouye’s campaign account and his DANPAC leadership PAC

Revolving Door

  • Jamie Gillespie, a former Inouye aide, is now director of government relations for the National Association of Broadcasters
  • Eric Lee, a former Inouye legislative assistant, is now principal at Lee & Associates and lobbies on behalf of GTA Teleguam, a Guam-based telecommunications company
  • Rachel Welch, a former telecommunications policy adviser to Inouye, is now a top lobbyist for Time Warner Cable
  • Patricia Zell, a former staff director and counsel for Inouye in his capacity as then-chair and later as ranking member on the Indian Affairs committee, is now a lobbyist at Zell & Cox Law, representing the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Sealaska Native Corporation


  • Between 2008 and 2010, Inouye obtained over $1.25 billion in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
  • In 2010, he obtained more than $392 million in earmarks, including $3.52 million for General Atomics for the Hawaii Microalgae Biofuel Project and $5 million for the Hawaii-based Oceanit Laboratories, Inc., for the High Accuracy Network Determination System-Intelligent Optical Network for Space Situational Awareness

Ethical Issues

  • In 1992, Inouye’s Republican opponent Rick Reed ran campaign ads accusing the Democrat of sexual misconduct toward his hairstylist. She refused to participate in an ethics committee investigation and, in 1993, the panel dropped its probe
  • In 2009, The Washington Post published a story reporting that Inouye’s staff had contacted federal regulators about the bailout application of Central Pacific Financial, a Hawaii bank he had helped start and in which he had significant investment. Inouye denied attempting to influence the outcome

Read more in Money and Democracy

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