Ezra Klein has a good post up on the relationship between earmarks and executive power:
But the people who are more commonly associated with the fight against earmarks both hate this White House and want to see more power devolved to the states and to political actors who are directly accountable to the American people. Which is what makes this fight so weird. If you get rid of earmarks, you don't get rid of the money that gets spent on earmarks. It's just that the agencies, rather than the Congress, get to decide where that money goes. That is to say, unelected bureaucrats make the decisions that elected representatives had been making. Power centralizes in Washington, D.C. Local concerns don't echo so loudly. The executive branch becomes stronger.
But for all of their yelling about small government and a broken political process, conservatives seem to have missed an important point. Despite their modern association with corruption, earmarks are a good expression of the Madisonian idea that parochial concerns deserve a say in the regular functioning of government. […]
In their zeal to eliminate earmarks, small-government conservatives are ceding congressional power to the president. Indeed, it's no surprise to see that President Obama is enthusiastic about the prospect of an earmark ban; if Congress doesn't allocate spending, the executive branch will gladly take the reins, with the White House and government agencies gaining greater say in how appropriated funds are actually spent.
I should say that I'm not against earmarks, and I don't see anything particularly conservative about wanting to preserve the influence of individual communities, at least to some extent. American democracy means a little more than just electing a congressman and a senator, and while we would do well to remove some entry points for parochial interests (like the filibuster), we shouldn't through the baby out with the bathwater (to use a cliche). In any case, you should read the whole piece.
-- Jamelle Bouie