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Earmarks vs. Federal Funding
Posted by: MichaelW on Monday, September 15, 2008

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at Gov. Sarah Palin's record on earmarks and finds it wanting.
Last week, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain said his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, hadn't sought earmarks or special-interest spending from Congress, presenting her as a fiscal conservative. But state records show Gov. Palin has asked U.S. taxpayers to fund $453 million in specific Alaska projects over the past two years.


During an appearance Friday on ABC's "The View," Sen. McCain said Gov. Palin shared his views, and hasn't sought congressional earmarks. "Not as governor she hasn't," he said.

In fact, in the current fiscal year, she is seeking $197 million for 31 projects, the records show. In the prior year, her first year in office, she sought $256 million for dozens more projects ranging from research on rockfish and harbor-seal genetics to rural sanitation and obesity prevention. By comparison, her predecessor, Gov. Frank Murkowski, sought more than $350 million in his last year in office.
I've said before, and I'll say it again now, that the McCain ticket is vulnerable on this issue, simply because as governor of a "beneficiary state" Palin was not likely to remove Alaska from the federal dole any time soon. Of course she did drastically reduce the amount of federal spending requests for Alaska, which the WSJ noted, but that doesn't automatically create clean hands for the governor, and it doesn't justify the claims that Palin requested no earmarks whatsoever. Unless ...
The level of federal spending requests have dropped under Palin’s administration both years, but quite obviously she still puts in requests for Congressional cash. The question that the WSJ never really answers is how those requests come to Congress. If they come in earmark form, then the McCain campaign has some explaining to do about its rhetoric the past three weeks. If not, then this is a non-story, and in fact shows Palin weaning Alaska off of Washington’s largesse.

Earmarks are not equivalent to all federal spending, as McCain himself notes. If these requests did not come in earmark form, then Congress has the opportunity to vote directly on spending the money in Alaska based on the legitimacy of the projects. Earmarks, on the other hand, get slipped into bills without such Congressional scrutiny and are almost impossible to remove regardless of the uselessness of the project.

Also, it’s pretty easy to miss the fact that Governors can’t earmark, because they aren’t members of Congress. Palin would have to rely on Ted Stevens, Lisa Murkowski, and Don Young to propose legislation for her funding requests, and none of these three have any hesitation to use earmarks rather than legislation. Palin technically could legitimately say that she didn’t apply for earmarks on projects even if the Alaskan contingent used that process for their state’s requests, although it would be somewhat deceptive to try that as an argument.
We've made this point here at QandO before as well (specifically, see the post and comments here). In addition to the fact that only congressmen can actually earmark Governors can’t earmarkanything, there is a huge difference between requesting federal funding of whatever form, and demanding earmarks. Money that's appropriated to states in the form of bills that are specifically voted upon are entirely different from the funding slipped into legislation completely unrelated to the targeted projects.

Whether or not Palin requested earmarks or general federal funding has yet to be determined, but Ed Morrissey has unearthed some evidence that casts doubt on the proclamation that she is the "Earmark Queen." He links to the OMB list of federal funding requests that was probably the source of information for the WSJ article, and concludes:
This underscores the point that Palin didn’t ask for earmarks, but for federal funding for projects, which could have come from normal appropriations requests as well. The mechanism gets chosen by Alaska’s legislators, not by the Governor.
Morrissey also looked at the cover letter from Palin requesting federal funding, and finds that it is similarly devoid of any specific requests for "earmarks." Indeed, as I look through the letter and the attached appropriation requests (pdf) from Sen. Ted Stevens, it appears that nearly all of the funding requests are pursuant to ongoing federal legislation, which usually provides for an appropriation process. In short, as I understand it, these sorts of funding requests would receive up or down votes on the floor of Congress, and not be tucked away in unrelated bills as an earmark.

Regardless, the McCain Campaign was rather negligent in not having this sort of backup information at the ready to counter accusations that Palin is no earmark saint. Of course, it still hasn't be determined that she in fact did not request earmarks, so that may be the reason why. If she did make such requests, then the campaign should not be creating such easy targets for Obama's snipers to hit by making such overbroad claims as "I said thanks, but no thanks to Congress" and that Palin hasn't requested earmarks as governor. And even if Palin is clean with respect to earmarks, the McCain Campaign has not sufficiently explained how her requests for funding are any different from what McCain has been deriding for the past several years.

Given the above, I don't know how much effect attacks on McCain's virtue in this area will have, but I expect that they will continue apace.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

This is an issue I really don’t get. Is anyone seriously trying to suggest that Obama would be a fiscally responsible steward of America’s money as President, while Palin as Vice-President would simply waste our money on useless projects, even with McCain as President? Can anyone explain why it is that a governor’s funding requests (presuming they are general, rather than "give money to this company") would have any impact on corruption or fiscal responsibility of the Congress (which are two of the three reasons earmarks are a problem; the third being the impediment to flexibility that they build into the executive branch of government)? Really, I have not gotten the point of these attacks against a governor on Federal earmarks. Hopefully someone will explain it to me.

Written By: Jeff Medcalf
I find it hard to fault Palin for using the system available to state governments to secure Federal funding for certain projects. She didn’t create the system and seems to have tried to limit Alaska’s requests.

Sort of like blaming Justice Thomas for Affirmative Action just because he may have benefited from it.
Written By: Jay
URL: http://
Jeff Medcalf,

I think that the real issue is hypocrisy, which I have recently read is now considered the mortal sin of politics. Many of the arguments over who should be elected turn on accusations of hypocrisy, which is to say honesty. If McCain and Palin are casting her as an opponent of earmarks, then they are hypocrites and liars if it turns out that she HAS sought such funding. This may impact how some undecided voters cast their ballots in November; most Americans don’t like to be lied to. For most voters, however, I don’t think it matters very much, either because they’ve already made up their minds about who they are voting for or because earmarks isn’t a big issue for them.
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
hypocrisy, which I have recently read is now considered the mortal sin of politics.
Then about 95% of all politicians are doomed beyond redemption...
If McCain and Palin are casting her as an opponent of earmarks, then they are hypocrites and liars if it turns out that she HAS sought such funding.
Only if she saught earmarks, and not funding which then ended up being sought by Alaska’s congress-critters in the form or Earmarks. The difference is not only staggering, but was also explain in the post.

Which you seem to have barely read.
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
The issue is hypocrisy, which in this case is not about Palin taking earmarks but about McCain’s statement on The View that she hadn’t taken any.

Whether he was mis-informed of Alaska’s earmarks or he was interrupted and didn’t get out what he meant to say, this is being held up as yet another example of McCain’s "lies".

Clearly Palin is righteous on earmarks. You don’t end them suddenly in a state that’s been on the Federal dole as long as Alaska has, but cutting them by over 40% is a good first step.

That won’t matter. McCain opponents will frame what was said as a lie and try to tie that with what so many believe were Bush’s lies. McCain and Bush, just more of the same. And I don’t think you could overcome that even if it turns out all the funding requests were legislated rather than earmarks. That’s too subtle for this crowd.
Written By: Strick
URL: http://
Now Michael - you’re just giving to nuanced a view for the left/liberal/progressive/democrats.

That’s just not in their world view when it comes to Republicans.

I still say the comparison for lifetime records of earmark requests should be Obama/Biden vs McCain/Palin.
Written By: Keith_Indy
Scott Jacobs,

I think you misunderstand the thrust of my post: I’m not saying whether or not I believe Sarah Palin tried to get money through earmarks, but rather explaining to Jeff Medcalf my view of why the earmarks issue is being used to attack her, e.g. that if she can be shown to have sought earmark money after being portrayed as an anti-earmark crusader, then she’s a hypocrite and her opponents will use this against her. Given that the MSM has their knives out for Sarah Palin, this won’t be hard for the dems: if she did ANYTHING less than threaten to kill somebody for spending a single dollar of earmark money in Alaska under her watch, then this is hypocrisy and the MSM will make damned sure that we all know it. They will also bank on people not really understanding the difference between earmark money and normal federal spending. We’ve gotten a whiff of that here when certain commenters tried to portray her as some sort of pork queen because Alaska (apparently) gets quite a lot of federal money per capita. Though this is not surprising given the facts that (1) Alaska has a small population; (2) most of the state is federal land; and (3) Alaska has some large military bases, it’s also not surprising that less-than-scrupulous people will try to tarnish Palin’s credentials by making it seem like she personally asked for all that money as earmarks.

And, yes, you’re right: if hypocrisy is a mortal political sin, then 95% politicians are damned. Unfortunately, politics isn’t fair, so the name of the game is portraying your opponent as a BIGGER hypocrite than you are.
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
When the Feds own 92% or so of your state, asking them to pay for a few things may not be unreasonable.

Are the requests Grant applications, or agency requests, or actual requests for the dreaded earmark? Not enough information to determine.

Stupid woman. If she had only had the foresight to have Todd quit BP and get a job with a hospital she then provided funding to, no one would even notice her requests or his increase in compensation.
Written By: teejay
URL: http://
I have a hunch the McCain camp is being intentionally slow bringing this to a close. The more Obama ’proves’ that he is marginally better than Palin on earmarks, the more he tarnishes himself compared to McCain. He is running against McCain after all and McCain is pure on the subject.

Once it is a big issue (since the press thinks it helps Obama to tear down Palin and gives the issue its seal of approval), trot out what proof you have that Palin never asked for earmarks. Have McCain say earmark abuse must end and that McCain is the only one who can end it since he never indulged in them unlike the junior Senator from Illinois who in three short years requested nearly a billion dollars. Where does that leave Obama/Biden?
Written By: CAL
URL: http://
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