Even on trial, Stevens pulls in earmarks
By Roxana Tiron
from THE HILL 09/16/08
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is busy fending off federal charges and scrambling to retain his seat, but that hasn’t affected his appetite for earmarks. Stevens has secured the most earmarks in the Senate defense appropriations bill, according to an analysis by The Hill. The Hill reviewed projects requested by individual members that made it into the spending measure. Stevens’s earmark share in the defense bill is more than $200 million. The indicted senator is likely to tout that haul on the campaign trail.
Senate appropriators recently disclosed close to $3 billion in project requests that were not included in the Pentagon’s budget request for fiscal 2009, according to a calculation by The Hill and Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS). That is more than $2 billion less than what the Senate disclosed last year. Sens. Stevens and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, top the list with about $215 million in earmarks each.
Stevens stands out because he made the majority of requests by himself, sharing only a few with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). By comparison, many of Cochran’s requests come together with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) or other senators.
Stevens relinquished his spot as the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Defense panel in July after being charged with seven counts of concealing more than $250,000 worth of home renovations and gifts from a now-defunct oil-services company, Veco Corp. Cochran stepped in as the ranking member of the Defense panel to replace Stevens. The longest-serving Republican senator has pleaded not guilty and is hoping to clear his name before he faces Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) in the November election. Stevens last month easily won the GOP primary.
In fiscal 2008, Cochran and Stevens emerged as the biggest earmark winners across all appropriations bills, according to an analysis conducted by TCS, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks earmarks and federal spending.
The majority members usually receive 60 percent of the earmarks; the minority, 40 percent. The two veteran lawmakers have been known to split the earmark amount almost down the middle. Stevens has some close friends on the committee, said TCS’s Keith Ashdown.
“His friends are giving him the juice to go back to his constituents and remind them that he delivers for the state of Alaska,” said Ashdown. “ He's in the fight for his political life."
Ashdown added that this time around, “His buddies that he has known for decades and legislated with … have packed this bill with projects for Alaska to make sure that he can show that his experience and what he can bring home should matter in this election. This will be incredibly important for him.”
For the 2009 defense bill, Inouye secured $200 million — a close second to Stevens and Cochran. Stevens touted some of his earmarks as well as his close working relationship with Inouye in a press release. His office sent the press release (which is also posted on the senator’s website) when The Hill requested comment for this article. According to Ashdown, Stevens did not make it a habit to post press releases touting earmarks in the past. This year, with a tough political challenge, Stevens’s achievements are front and center. Among the projects Stevens’s office boasted are: $500,000 for wind power construction at Tin City, Alaska; $10 million for a coal-to-liquids facility at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska; $61.3 million for Air Force and Army ranges in Alaska to improve readiness and interoperability, and $16 million for a C-17 assault landing zone in interior Alaska. Stevens also secured $3 million for the Alaskan National Guard’s counter-drug program, $2 million for hibernation genomics and $4 million for the research and development of an Arctic regional computer. Cochran’s office did not comment for this article.
Meanwhile, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the dean of Senate appropriations, secured about $170 million in earmarks, according to the disclosure in the bill.