Patronage has developed from the distribution of largesse in the form of minor gifts, to the allocation of large architectural and defence contracts. Politicians also use their power to locate positions for people, whether in the government or private sector.
In 1998, the House Transportation Committee swiftly approved $217 billion in spending for highways, bridges, mass transit systems and bike paths, virtually assuring passage of one of the biggest public works bills in history of the USA. The 1,400 "high priority" projects – widely referred to as pork barrel spending – ranged from $100,000 to "upgrade pedestrian traffic facilities" to $97 million for a major demolition and reconstruction of an interstate bridge. In the USA earmarking or pork politics has long been used to secure highways, bridges and other pet projects for particular constituencies. From the 1980s this was extended to scientific and academic research.
Many countries, and notably Italy, are renowned for the system of political patronage and family ties through which individuals gain employment in the civil service. In Italy up until the 1990s political patronage in exchange for the promise of a vote had become one of the most common avenues to promotion and job-filling. The patronage has been extended by a well-established practice of allocating invalidity pensions prior to scheduled termination of employment.
Instead of making government responsive, political patronage keeps politically connected but incompetent civil servants in office. Taxpayers are thus deprived of effective officials whilst demoralizing those who are effective in government.
Patronage has a terrible reputation but it makes government more responsive by making public offices change when the electorate changes its choices. It is thus good for the country because it ensures rotation in office and brings fresh people into government.