Candidates' Earmarks Worth Millions
Of Front-Runners, McCain Abstained
Thursday, February 14, 2008; Page A01
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.
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.