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Palin used system she now opposes

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION

September 01, 2008|Tom Hamburger | Times Staff Writer

ANCHORAGE — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin presents herself as an ally of presidential candidate John McCain when it comes to curbing wasteful government spending.

On Friday, when McCain introduced her as his running mate, she said she "championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending," the legislative technique used to slip projects into appropriations bills without rigorous congressional review.

But under her leadership, the state of Alaska has requested 31 earmarks worth $197.8 million in next year's federal budget, according to the website of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Palin has recently been publicly critical of requests made in past years by Stevens and others for $223 million in federal funds for a bridge from Ketchikan, Alaska, to Gravina Island, calling it "the Bridge to Nowhere," a derogatory label critics attached to the project.

As a candidate for governor in 2006, she backed funding for the bridge.

After her election, however, she killed the project, saying she would use the federal funds for other purposes.

As mayor of the small city of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin appears to have made use of the system she now decries, hiring a Washington lobbyist, Steven Silver, to represent the town. Years ago, Silver worked as an aide to Stevens.

After he was hired, the city obtained funding for several projects, including a city bus facility that received an earmark valued at $600,000 in 2002. That year a local water and sewer project received $1.5 million in federal earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog organization.

A campaign spokeswoman, referring only to Palin's record as governor, responded that "she took the lead in slashing wasteful spending."

Spokeswoman Maria Comella said, "After taking office and examining the project closely, she consistently opposed funding the 'Bridge to Nowhere' and ultimately canceled the wasteful project."

Keith Ashdown, senior researcher at Taxpayers for Common Sense, applauded Palin for taking "gutsy reform positions" on some issues, but said that her past practice on earmarks stands in contrast to the views of her running mate.

"Vice presidential candidate Palin is decrying a system that has been very lucrative for her state and that, at least to some degree, she participated in," he said.

The Arizona senator is an out and out opponent of the earmark system and for years has led efforts to end it, including reading the earmarks for defense contractors aloud on the Senate floor to embarrass those who sponsored them.

Yet Alaska has been the largest beneficiary of the earmark system through the years and its most senior legislators, including Stevens and Rep. Don Young, also a Republican, were among its most ardent defenders.

The money that the state of Alaska requested for 2009 includes $25 million for "Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery" and $3.2 million for seal and sea lion biological research, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

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tom.hamburger@latimes.com

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