(CBS) - Congress started a five-week vacation Friday. But before leaving, the House passed a bill that contains more than 500 earmarks. CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson has been investigating these expensive pet projects that lawyers slip into spending bills. And now, she's followed the money to a deserted office complex.
This tale begins in the small town of Nanticoke, Penn., population 9,500, where hometown Rep. Paul Kanjorski got more than $3 million federal tax dollars to build the "Kanjorski Center," an office building to attract business and help the local economy.
"I'm used to getting a great deal of money for my district," Kanjorski said.
But things haven't quite gone according to plan. The Kanjorski Center's main tenant moved out in 2005, and the building's been empty ever since.
"How much is the city paying for the building while it's empty?" Attkisson asked Pennsylvania state Rep. John Yudichak.
"The city's been paying about $15,000 a month while the building has been empty," he said.
Yudichak says the Kanjorski Center was ill-thought-out, and has become an albatross.
Now Kanjorski has a new plan. It involves millions more tax dollars to build a parking garage for the Kanjorski Center, in hopes of convincing a local community college to move in.
It'll cost taxpayers $5.6 million - money Kanjorski earmarked for the parking garage project. An earmark is a grant of money without the normal public review.
But there's one big problem: federal aid can only be used for parking garages that serve mass transit ... it's not intended for office parking in a congressman's hometown. When Kanjorski was notififed his project is contrary to federal rules, he said it didn't matter.
"I don't think the rule should be there," Kanjorski said. "I don't think the rule should have any attention paid to it. Becaus in Congress we have our own rules."
It turns out local officials like Yudihak also object to Congressman Kanjorski's parking garage.
"We saw it as a huge liability," Yudihak said.
Congressman Kanjorski calls that sour grapes from a political rival, a fellow Democrat, and says local residents should be happy to get the grants of money he brings home.
"You call these federal and state grants 'free money.' The quote is, 'I don't know anyone who would turn down a free building. It would be funded with, quote, free money,'" Attkisson said. "'From federal and state grants.'"
"For the community, it is free money," Kanjorski said.
"But it's not really free. Taxpayers are paying for it," Attkisson pointed out.
"It is the taxpayers of the United States' money," Kanjorski said. "But it doesn't cause any difficulty to the community to take the money."
"It is not free money!" Yudichak said. "It's taxpayers' money. In my view, the congressman looks at federal earmarks, the $5.6 million, as play money."
Regardless of whether the town wants to play, Kanjorski now says he'll do whatever it takes to build his parking garage with some of that "free money," better known outside of Washington as your tax dollars.