By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton helped secure more than $340 million worth of home-state projects in last year's spending bills, placing her among the top 10 Senate recipients of what are commonly known as earmarks, according to a new study by a nonpartisan budget watchdog group.
Working with her New York colleagues in nearly every case, Clinton supported almost four times as much spending on earmarked projects as her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), whose $91 million total placed him in the bottom quarter of senators who seek earmarks, the study showed.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the likely GOP presidential nominee, was one of five senators to reject earmarks entirely, part of his long-standing view that such measures prompt needless spending.
As a campaign issue, earmarks highlight significant differences in the spending philosophies of the top three candidates. Clinton has repeatedly supported earmarks as a way to bring home money for projects, while Obama adheres to a policy of using them only to support public entities.
McCain is using his blanket opposition to earmarked spending as a regular line of attack against Clinton, even running an Internet ad mocking her $1 million request for a museum devoted to the Woodstock music festival. Obama has been criticized for using a 2006 earmark to secure money for the University of Chicago hospital where his wife worked until last year.
The new report, by Taxpayers for Common Sense, is the first to show all the earmarks each lawmaker added to spending bills for an entire fiscal year. It notes the explosive growth of the practice, which amounted to more than $18 billion in fiscal 2008.
Stung by criticism of earmarks, President Bush and an increasing number of lawmakers have started to campaign against their use.
In his State of the Union address last month, Bush vowed to veto any spending bills for 2009 that do not cut back on earmarks, and 22 House members have sworn off seeking them. While most are Republicans, Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), a key committee chairman and close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), joined yesterday.
"Congressional spending through earmarks is out of control," he said
Lawmakers previously were allowed to include multimillion-dollar items in spending bills without publicly identifying themselves as sponsors. House and Senate Democrats passed measures last year that require open sponsorship of earmarks.
Though they still make up a tiny fraction of the federal budget, earmarks remain a multibillion-dollar business on Capitol Hill. Congress added 12,881 earmarks, worth $18.3 billion, to spending bills that Bush signed into law, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. That is a 23 percent drop from the record level of earmarked money for fiscal 2005.
Democrats used their new majority to secure 57 percent of total earmarked money in fiscal 2008. Members of both parties even supported a $4.5 billion pot of earmarks.
"An increasing number of individual members recognize that a moratorium is needed until significant reforms are made to the earmark process," Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a longtime earmark opponent, said yesterday.
The new report showed that Clinton co-sponsored a $1.6 million earmark to fund technology development by a defense contractor and steered $3 million to the Rochester Institute of Technology for a fuel-cell-technology program. Another $1.6 million earmark she supported went to Weidlinger Associates, a New York engineering consulting firm working on shock testing for naval vessels.
Obama, meanwhile, helped steer $3.4 million to the Rock Island Arsenal for a military fire and police building, and was the sole sponsor of a measure seeking $750,000 for an education initiative at Benedictine University in Illinois.
McCain, who has helped lead efforts to strip some earmarks from Senate bills, has not focused on the money headed to his home state. Other Arizona lawmakers secured more than $214 million in pet projects in fiscal 2008 spending bills.
The candidates "do illustrate the broad spectrum of attitudes toward earmarks in Congress," said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Clinton stands behind her earmarked projects as a sign of her work for constituents.
"Senator Clinton is very proud to have helped New York-based projects that train nurses, improve our hospitals, help those suffering from 9/11-related health ailments, bolster our national and homeland security, and provide our brave men and women in uniform with the resources they need to achieve their mission, while keeping them safe," said Philippe Reines, Clinton's spokesman.
Clinton's $342 million total consists almost entirely of projects she supported with other New York lawmakers. On her own, she secured one $98,000 earmark.
Her total is unusually large for someone who does not serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where earmarks are doled out, usually on a members-first basis. Of the 10 largest recipients, Clinton is the only senator not on the committee, the report found.
Obama's criticism of Washington's insider culture is a linchpin of his campaign; he supports earmarks only for public entities such as schools and hospitals. He secured $3.3 million in earmarks through his own sponsorship, and collected $88 million in concert with other Illinois lawmakers.
Since last year, he has publicly released the letters he submits to the Appropriations Committee seeking support for the spending items, but has not released those submitted to the committee in 2005 and 2006.
On the campaign trail, Obama has specifically mentioned his ability to work across the aisle "on opening up and creating more transparency in government," so that all government spending is "posted on a searchable database."
Bill Burton, his campaign spokesman, said Obama's level of disclosure exceeds Clinton's. "We began running for president in 2007 and, unlike our opponent, we thought it was appropriate to release our earmarks," he said.
McCain has used his opposition to earmarks to rally conservatives reluctant to support his presidential campaign, regularly criticizing Clinton for such spending.
He attacked her Woodstock museum request, saying at an October GOP debate that he was "tied up" and unable to attend the 1969 music festival -- a sly reference to his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "That kind of thing is going to stop when I'm president of the United States of America," McCain said earlier this month of Clinton's earmarks.
Her item was rejected in a Senate vote last fall, among the few earmarks that were turned down in a House or Senate vote.
Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.