Taxpayer Rip-Off of the Week: $500,000 for Sparta Teapot Museum

Congress really outdid itself this time. The 2006 Transportation/Treasury/HUD Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3058) allotted $500,000 for the construction of the Sparta Teapot Museum, tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina.

According to the museum’s website, the Sparta Teapot Museum exposes "its visitors to an unexpected art form — the teapot." Its prized Kamm Collection "is comprised of more than 6,000 teapots and has an estimated value exceeding $5 million," running the gamut from "traditional antiques, to classic production pieces, to one-of-a-kind artist-made works." These include such creative pieces as the Ruby Slipper Teapot and the Scorpion Float.

According to the Carolina Journal, supporters of the Museum hoped the Museum would attract tourism to the rural area. "It’s a great location for travel tourism," said State Representative Jim Harrell III (D.-Alleghany). However, State Senator Don East (R.-Alleghany) expressed doubts about the Museum’s power to attract tourists to the area. In an interview with the Carolina Journal, East admitted, "It’s a crapshoot whether we will ever realize a lot out of tourism. Hopefully we will."

This is just another example of what is wrong with the appropriations process. A congressman from North Carolina needs something to boast about come election time so he slips a $500,000 earmark into the Transportation Bill even though the earmark in question has nothing to do with transportation, and everyone turns the other way because they’re doing the exact same thing.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The career politicians in Washington can kick and scream all they want, but if change is what the people want then change is what they’re going to get.

Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee voted in favor of spending tax dollars on North Carolina’s Teapot Museum (Senate Roll Call Vote #264) on October 20, 2005.