When you work “inside the beltway,” as I do, politicians and their staff members sometimes tell you things they wouldn’t dare say to their constituents or the media. Mainly I hear lots of reasons — or more accurately excuses — as to why they can’t do something, even though they claim to agree with our position.

Take the Arctic Refuge as an example. More than a dozen GOP House members who say they oppose drilling, supported the congressional budget resolution (which included a drilling provision). Had just a few of these lawmakers decided to oppose the budget, the resolution would have been defeated on the House floor and the drilling debate would be over — at least for this year.

Two different staffers told me that their bosses voted for the initial budget blueprint because they did not want to negatively affect the amount of federal highway dollars that would go to their districts. Who controls those dollars? House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), one of the chief advocates of Arctic drilling. Young has cut road allocations for members who have gone against him on the Arctic and other Alaska issues, but you’d be hard pressed to find reports about such instances in the media or talked about publicly.

Who would dare admit they cast their vote, not on the basis of principle but politics? Who would acknowledge publicly they were willing to trade the wildest place left in America for their own piece of personal pork?

Well, the highway bill has since passed Congress and President Bush signed it into law two weeks ago. You’d think that would ease the pressure on lawmakers who oppose Arctic drilling to actually vote their conscience when the final budget bill comes back to the House floor this fall.

Sadly, though, there is always more pork — some other quiet deal to cut for politicians willing to name their price. But we’re doing something to stop that. By shining a bright spotlight on everything they do and say about the Arctic, we can keep Congress honest about their decisions. Together, we are thousands of eyes and ears that can catch everything they have said — on the campaign trail, in interviews, or in our calls to their offices.

So tell me what you know — I’ll tell you if it jibes with what we’re hearing “inside the Beltway.”

Washington can be kept honest by the weight of citizen involvement. So, the next time you talk to your lawmaker’s office let them know you want them to oppose any final budget bill that includes Arctic drilling.