By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 22, 2007
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer has won more than $400,000 he sought for a music education foundation run by one of his campaign contributors, in what a budget watchdog group called an "egregious" example of pork-barrel spending.
The $438,000 grant for the InTune Foundation Group of Beverly Hills, Calif., was in the giant spending bill passed by Congress this week, according to the Maryland Democrat's office.
U.S. Department of Education officials recently said they couldn't figure out how InTune spent a previous half-million-dollar grant in 2005 because it hadn't turned in its final report, due in September 2006. A department spokeswoman, Samara Yudof, said yesterday that it still hadn't received that information.
Hoyer told reporters this week that he decided to maintain the funding despite such problems but that he would stipulate to the department that if the InTune personnel "don't meet the criteria, they ought not to get the money."
Budget watchdog groups said that was not enough.
"If he was really concerned and worried about his fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer, he should have pulled that earmark," said Leslie K. Paige of the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste.
Earmarks are grants tucked into bills for designated companies or projects, often in the sponsoring lawmaker's district. Although they make up only a small part of the federal budget, they are controversial, with critics complaining that they typically do not get much scrutiny and that they sometimes appear to reward campaign supporters.
Hoyer, regarded as one of the top earmarkers in the House, defends his projects as "good pork." He says his earmarks have gone to such causes as cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, improving local roads and equipping police.
He said he secured the money for InTune because he is a longtime proponent of music education and not in exchange for financial support. Hoyer's political action committee received at least $31,000 from InTune's director, other people involved with the foundation and their families from 2004 to 2006, Federal Election Commission records show.
InTune's director, Eugene C. Maillard, did not respond to messages left yesterday on his office phone and cellphone.
In an earlier interview, he said that InTune would spend most of the 2008 earmark to create youth programs at the National Music Center in Washington.
"It might be music camps. It might be lessons. It might be how to be a DJ. It might be how to create a television show," he said.
A news release from Hoyer's office described the project as a "national music career and education program for middle and high school students." It said the program will operate in the Washington region as well as nationwide.
The Washington Post recently highlighted the InTune grant proposal in a report describing Hoyer's budget requests. The National Association for Music Education contacted The Post after its report, expressing concern that InTune's plans seemed vague.
"My heavens! We have such need in this field," said the association's senior deputy executive director, Michael Blakeslee. "The thought of a pile of money, where nobody can explicitly state what they're going to do for kids, is disturbing."
Citizens for Government Waste put the InTune earmark on its list of "Most Egregious Pork-Barrel Projects" contained in the 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill.
"This is not a national priority," said Paige, the group's spokeswoman. "This is an earmark that could easily be funded by the private sector, by the music industry."
InTune's earlier earmark was supposed to be spent on creating lesson plans on funk music and Nobel Peace laureates, according to its paperwork submitted to the government. In those documents, the foundation said it would spend thousands of dollars from that grant to have an educator, Joan Kozlovsky, evaluate the project in 2005 and 2006.
Kozlovsky told The Post that she did no such work and hadn't been paid by the foundation.
Maillard said the 2005 project was delayed by a senior consultant's illness. He said that it was eventually carried out and that he still planned to hire Kozlovsky to do a final evaluation.