“It would obviously be hard to say that here’s 31 earmark requests worth nearly $200 million and earmarks are evil” – Steve Ellis, a spokesman for the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense
By David Nather
By now, the image of Sarah Palin as a fighter of earmarks is central to John McCain’s narrative of why he picked her. So it’s worth a closer look at Palin’s actual record on earmarks, which includes the fact that, yes, she did ask for them.
On the trail, Palin never actually claims that she hasn’t asked for earmarks. But she definitely leaves the impression that she’s every bit as passionate a fighter against the practice as McCain is, and certainly more so than Barack Obama, who didn’t endorse a moratorium on earmarks until this year.
“I championed earmark reform, also, to help Congress stop wasting money on those things that do not serve the public interest,” Palin said this morning at a campaign rally in Fairfax, Virginia. “We reformed the abuses of earmarks in our state, and it was while our opponent was requesting a billion dollars in earmarks as a senatorial privilege. What I was doing was vetoing half a billion as an executive responsibility.”
That speech touched off some unusually outraged media coverage, which noted that Palin had, in fact, asked Congress for nearly $200 million in federal earmarks just this year. Could it be? Where’s the evidence?
Fortunately, if you’re curious, you can look them all up, thanks to the Web site of Alaska’s earmark king, Sen. Ted Stevens – who was thoughtful enough to list all of the earmark requests he got and who asked for them. Sure enough, Palin’s office submitted 31 requests, totaling approximately $197 million. You can read the list here.
It’s not that the image of Palin as an earmark fighter is a total myth. Palin did, in fact, anger Stevens by trying to cut back on earmark requests. “It is a difficult thing to get over right now, the feeling that we don’t represent Alaska because Alaska doesn’t want earmarks,” Stevens told the Anchorage Daily News in March.
Palin made it clear she was trying to get on the right side of growing momentum to rein in federal earmarks. “You can either be proactive and be a part of the positive changes that are coming,” she told the paper, “or you can try to fight this new system that’s coming in.”
In addition, the cover letter to Stevens states that the requests were “reduced significantly from previous years,” noting that Palin’s office was “mindful of congressional concerns about budget deficits and earmarks.” That statement shows that “there is some recognition … that there is some problem generally with earmarks,” said Steve Ellis, a spokesman for the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
In a memo e-mailed to reporters this afternoon, the McCain campaign said Palin’s requests were a significant reduction from the record of the previous Alaska governor, Republican Frank Murkowski, whom Palin unseated in 2006. Murkowski’s final request asked for $350 million in earmarks, according to the campaign.
Still, asking for fewer earmarks is not the same as rejecting them on principle. “It would obviously be hard to say that here’s 31 earmark requests worth nearly $200 million and earmarks are evil,” said Ellis. It’s worth keeping in mind every time McCain and Palin try to present themselves as the taxpayers’ best friends and the earmarkers’ worst enemies.