More on Palin and Earmarks (Updated)
It appears that while Sarah Palin was busy hiring lobbyists to get Congress to provide earmarks to the small town of Wasilla, John McCain was fighting her earmarks.
For much of his long career in Washington, John McCain has been throwing darts at the special spending system known as earmarking, through which powerful members of Congress can deliver federal cash for pet projects back home with little or no public scrutiny. He’s even gone so far as to publish “pork lists” detailing these financial favors.
Three times in recent years, McCain’s catalogs of “objectionable” spending have included earmarks for this small Alaska town, requested by its mayor at the time — Sarah Palin.
In 2001, McCain’s list of spending that had been approved without the normal budget scrutiny included a $500,000 earmark for a public transportation project in Wasilla. The Arizona senator targeted $1 million in a 2002 spending bill for an emergency communications center in town — one that local law enforcement has said is redundant and creates confusion.
McCain also criticized $450,000 set aside for an agricultural processing facility in Wasilla that was requested during Palin’s tenure as mayor and cleared Congress soon after she left office in 2002.
Look, I don’t have a problem if a presidential candidate and his/her running mate have different positions on some issues, either on paper or on the record. Candidates can disagree with each other, and that’s fine.
But, if the McCain campaign insists on touting Sarah Palin as a “reformer” and an “earmark opponent”, then they are being deliberately misleading, and both McCain and Palin’s records reflect that.
Taylor Griffin, a McCain campaign spokesman, said that when Palin became mayor in 1996, “she faced a system that was broken. Small towns like Wasilla in Alaska depended on earmarks to take care of basic needs. . . . That was something that Gov. Palin was alarmed about and was one of the formative experiences that led her toward the reform-oriented stance that she has taken as her career has progressed.”
Palin, he said, was “disgusted” that small towns like hers were dependent on earmarks.
Public records paint a different picture:
Wasilla had received few if any earmarks before Palin became mayor. She actively sought federal funds — a campaign that began to pay off only after she hired a lobbyist with close ties to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who long controlled federal spending as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He made funneling money to Alaska his hallmark.
Steven Silver was a former chief of staff for Stevens. After he was hired, Wasilla obtained funding for several projects in 2002, including an additional $600,000 in transportation funding.
I don’t think that Sarah Palin is corrupt, the way Stevens is. She was a whistleblower and did her part to fight some of the endemic corruption in Alaska. No questions there.
But the reality is that she has done very little to change the causes of those problems in Alaska. Namely, the state government’s dependence on oil companies (which she exacerbated by promoting drilling over alternative energy and by
enacting windfall profit taxes) and dependence on federal pork barrel spending (which she has eagerly pursued throughout her career). This is problematic because the McCain campaign is saying that she’s good choice because she did change those things–when in fact she did nothing of the sort.
UPDATE: My colleague Steve Verdon in the comments assures me that Palin’s tax hikes on oil companies are not properly characterized as “windfall profit taxes” but rather increases in severance taxes. My mistake–I was relying on the characterization provided in the articles I’ve read on the subject. I still, however, think that reliance on oil revenues is at the heart of Alaska’s issues with corruption, and I don’t think that increasing taxes and thereby increasing the state government’s reliance on oil companies addresses the root of Alaska’s problems.