What the statement didn’t say is that Kingston owns a cottage on Tybee Island that sits about 900 feet from the beach. It’s a modest vacation home that he has rented out in the past. It’s worth about $142,900, and its value has been falling because of the downturn in the real estate market.
Real estate agents familiar with Tybee Island say property values would plummet further without beach replenishment projects.
Kingston, who has represented the 1st District of Georgia for nearly 20 years, said the beach project doesn’t help his Tybee Island property, which sits a little more than a block from the ocean.
“It’s absurd to suggest that this benefits me,” Kingston said. “The beach doesn’t improve the real estate of a house, unless it’s on the beach. . . . The only thing that changes in value is the beachfront property. It does have an economic impact on the beach and the community.”
In Maryland, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger helped obtain a $187,000 earmark in 2008 toward replenishing the Ocean City shoreline — more than 90 miles from his home district of Baltimore County. The funds helped pay for a shoreline survey.
Ruppersberger and his wife own two condominiums on the Ocean City beach. The Democrat reports on his financial disclosure form that one of them generates up to $15,000 in rental income.
Ruppersberger said the request for the beach funding originally came from the Maryland governor’s office to the House Appropriations Committee, on which he served at the time. He said beach replenishment is critical to the state’s tourism industry and characterized questions about the proximity of his condominiums as “ridiculous.” He certified that he had no financial interest in the earmark and said he saw no conflict in his actions, noting that his properties have lost value in recent years.
“That’s a stretch to say that thing’s going to benefit me,” Ruppersberger said.
Bringing funds home
Some lawmakers guided earmarks to projects not far from their personal residences.
In Harrison Township, Mich., Rep. Candice S. Miller’s home is on the banks of the Clinton River, about 900 feet downstream of the Bridgeview Bridge. The Republican lawmaker said when she learned local officials were going to replace the aging bridge, she decided to make sure the new one had a bike lane.
“I told the road commission, ‘I am going to try to get an earmark for the bike path,’ ” Miller said, recalling that she said, “If we don’t put a bike path on there while you guys are reconstructing the bridge, it will never happen.”
A member of the House Transportation Committee, Miller in 2006 was able to secure a $486,000 earmark that helped add a 14-foot-wide bike lane to the new bridge. That lane is a critical link in the many miles of bike paths that Miller has championed over the years. When the bridge had its grand reopening in 2009, Miller walked over from her home.
“People earmark for all kinds of things,” she said. “I’m pretty proud of this; I think I did what my people wanted. Should I have told them, ‘We can never have this bike path complete because I happen to live by one section of it’? They would have thrown me out of office.”
Rep. John W. Olver (D-Mass.) joined the House Appropriations Committee in 1993. During the past six years, he has secured nearly $100 million in earmarks for an array of projects across his western Massachusetts district, ranging from bus terminals to scenic byways.
These days, Olver’s earmark acumen can be seen in Amherst, a bucolic town where contractors have been realigning a stretch of road leading to a new intersection under construction near Hampshire College. The project, funded in part by $5.1 million worth of earmarks, begins at Country Corners Road along Route 116 — 209 feet from the border of the congressman’s 15-acre home and several adjoining parcels of property he owns with his wife.
The project will improve a stretch of Route 116 from near Olver’s property to the intersection, which will be replaced with two traffic circles. That intersection has bedeviled motorists with traffic tie-ups and car crashes.
E-mails obtained by The Post show that Olver’s staff kept in close touch with state and local transportation planners, requesting status updates. The congressman also met with top state transportation officials to discuss that project and others.
“I have to provide this update to the Congressman by Friday,” Natalie M. Blais, an economic development specialist for Olver in his district, wrote in September 2008 to a Massachusetts transportation official. “Any information you could provide before then would be REALLY helpful!”
Blais said in a recent interview that she sent that and other e-mails to obtain updates on the Amherst project and many other transportation projects in the congressional district to ensure that they stayed on track and were completed on time.
“We treat all of these projects the same way,” she said.
Olver said in an interview that local officials requested the project and he played no role in its design. He rejected any suggestion that the road improvements will boost the value of his property in a region where there is little room for development and much of the open land has been preserved.
“I am concerned about appearances. But I had no monetary interest whatsoever in this project,” Olver said. “I had nothing to do with the design. I was never notified of any of the hearings. I had no involvement whatsoever.”
Olver does not disclose his property on his annual financial reports because he’s not required to under House rules. The proximity of his property to the project also is not disclosed on a certification he filed with the House stating that neither he nor his wife have a financial stake in the earmarks.
When asked why he didn’t choose to include that information on his certification, even though he’s not technically required to do so, Olver said: “Maybe I should have disclosed that, I don’t know. I try to live my life by the rules as they are set.”
In Kentucky, Rep. Harold Rogers (R) has been called the “Prince of Pork” for his success in guiding federal money to his Appalachian home district. The longtime member and current chairman of the House Appropriations Committee helped secure about $250 million in earmarks from 2008 through 2010 — but when the House imposed the moratorium, Rogers embraced it. The country, he said, needed to “turn back from the edge of fiscal ruin.”
Prior to the moratorium, Rogers earmarked funds for the revitalization of downtown Somerset, his home town. That project continues today: More than $7 million in Rogers’s earmarks have gone toward it.
Part of the project involves overhauling a strip of North Main Street around the corner from Citizens National Bank. Rogers is director emeritus of the bank and owns $1 million to $5 million interest in the bank’s holding company.
On the edge of downtown, millions of Rogers’s earmarks for the revitalization in 2007 also improved a half-mile strip of College Street. Sixty houses, a high school and city hall sit on the road.
A city official said that street was a priority because of pedestrian safety. Student drivers were speeding up and down the road.
Contractors narrowed parts of the street to slow traffic, buried overhead utilities, rebuilt sidewalks, paved streets and installed new driveway aprons, curbs and decorative lamps. One of the residences on that street is a neat two-story, yellow home with a gabled roof and a flagpole in the front yard.
It’s Rogers’s residence.
“Congressman Rogers sees no conflict of interest in helping local community leaders achieve their goals for growth — at large or in this case in particular,” said Michael R. Higdon, chief of staff for Rogers.
Researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this article.