Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin made a name for himself at least twice during his career in the U.S. Senate, which ran from 1957 to 1989.
The first was that he never accepted any campaign donations. Today, of course, that would be unthinkable. Political candidates perpetually have their hands out, looking for the next special interest group to write them a check.
The second was Proxmire's Golden Fleece Award. This was his way of pointing out government-funded boondoggles. Among the recipients of these awards were the Department of Justice, which spent $27,000 to study why prisoners want to get out of jail, and the Federal Aviation Administration, which spent $57,800 to study the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses.
Also on the list of recipients were the National Science Foundation, which spent $84,000 to study why people fall in love, and the National Institute of Mental Health, which spent $97,000 to study what went on in a Peruvian brothel.
These days, a few hundred thousand dollars to study this brothel or that stewardess would hardly raise an eyebrow. When it comes to wasting money, Congress has set a much higher standard.
So have we. As taxpayers we complain incessantly about the amount of money the federal government spends. These days 42 cents of every dollar is borrowed, making the waste of taxpayer dollars even more of an outrage.
But we have on the books laws that cost an inordinate amount of money, don't really do anything and mainly benefit the legal community.
We speak, of course, of the Endangered Species Act and a basketful of related environmental laws. Only a handful of species have recovered using the law. Some of those "recoveries" involved little more than moving the animals from one place to another.
Such was the case with gray wolves. Listed as "endangered" in the Lower 48, biologists moved 62 of them from Canada, where upward of 30,000 wolves live. Then the wolves were let loose and everyone was banned from shooting them. Now, through the wonders of procreation, wolves are spreading across the West.
One can only assume a government agency will spend a pile of money studying how that "recovery" happened. A pile has already been spent in courts as environmental groups -- on the federal government's dime -- have wrangled with federal managers to "protect" the alleged "endangered" wolves, which now number more than 1,200.
The ESA is also used to stop any number of activities, from construction projects to ranching to cutting weeds.
A recent example of that last activity took place in California, home of the Los Padres National Forest. Managers there had planned to clear roadside brush and weeds along 750 miles of forest roads.
An environmental group sued to stop the work, arguing that cutting the weeds threaten protected and sensitive species.
Mind you, all of the work would take place within 10 feet of the road.
To protect this "sensitive" environment, the judge in the case issued an injunction and ordered to the U.S. Forest Service to hire a full-time biologist. According to the simplyhired.com website, a federal biologist makes about $56,000 a year, plus benefits. That's about $26.92 an hour.
Assuming the weed-cutting takes place on both sides of the roads -- a total of 1,500 miles -- is done at 1 mph, that's 1,500 hours. Multiply that by the hourly pay rate, and that's a little over $40,000.
That's $40,000 for nothing. And don't forget the federal government will have to pay the legal fees of the environmental group's lawyers and those who represented the Forest Service.
It should also be noted that many environmental groups want to get rid of roads in national forests and allow the forests to revert to nature sanctuaries. Maybe, just maybe, the real issue in this and other cases was the roads and not the "sensitive" species.
It's no surprise that the federal government wastes money, and a lot of it, on all sorts of nonsense.
But with laws like the Endangered Species Act, we have made it easy for us to fleece ourselves.