House Speaker Dennis Hastert Sends Millions to District

The front page of today’s Washington Post breaks the shocking news that Speaker of the House Dennis J. Hastert sends nearly $5 million a year back to the biggest city in his Illinois district. The story is so big, the revelation that there is pool in River City is pushed below the fold.

Hastert Directs Millions to Birthplace (WaPo, A1)

When Scott B. Palmer received an honorary degree in 2002 from his alma mater, Aurora University in Illinois, he urged the graduating class to “give back to our university, to our community and to our country.” As chief of staff to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Palmer runs a congressional office that has been able to do just that for Aurora, the birthplace of his boss and the largest city in his boss’s home district. Hastert has earmarked $24 million in grants for Aurora-based nonprofit groups since becoming speaker in 1999, using an obscure section of the big federal spending bills passed each year.

Nine months after the cap-and-gown ceremony honoring Palmer, Aurora University got $9.8 million to construct a teacher training institute. Aurora’s Rush-Copley Medical Center, where Palmer is an unpaid trustee, captured a total of $5.5 million in 2002 and 2003. About $3.4 million has gone to another Aurora hospital where another member of Hastert’s staff had worked.

Communities represented by powerful lawmakers have always had an edge in the scramble for federal funds. But Aurora’s successful applicants have unusually close connections to members of its congressman’s staff. In addition, unlike a long line of big spenders before him — including such masters of pork-barrel politics as the late speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) — Hastert is a conservative Republican who favors smaller government and leaner domestic budgets. He has led the fight to enforce tough White House spending limits for the highway program and domestic spending bills, sometimes over the objections of GOP committee chairmen.

It would be useful to have comparative data with what other Speakers and major committee chairman have brought to their home districts but, alas, the article provides none. Still, $24 million in six years for a city of over 150,000 doesn’t strike me as unreasonable. Goodness, Robert Byrd got $20 million for a single project just this year–and he’s in the minority party and no longer part of the leadership.

As the Bush administration applies the brakes to domestic spending, some are questioning the fairness of a system that enables powerful politicians to keep federal dollars flowing back home while districts represented by mere rank-and-file lawmakers are squeezed.

“Some?” Obviously, it’s not the ideal system. But every schoolboy knows that it is the system. Logrolling, pork barrel, and all that.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    The only thing startling to me, given this is the federal government we’re talking about, is how paltry that figure is, realistically speaking.

  2. badgervan says:

    95% of ’em should have a red light outside their office doors.