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Only in My Backyard! Stimulating Hypocrisy

The Center for Public Integrity has an interesting report called “Stimulating Hypocrisy”. It is well known that many of the same politicians who voted against the stimulus bill (and continue to call it a waste of money) simultaneously worked hard to direct that money towards their own pet projects. I guess I can’t blame them, and you can almost justify such a two-faced position, like conservative Pete Sessions tried when asked why his opposition to the stimulus didn’t stop him from lobbying for stimulus money for a rail project in his district. According to CPI, Sessions told them that he did not want his “strong, principled objection to the bill to prevent me” from getting his congressional district its share of the massive spending pot. It’s the old “government is corrupt, so I may as well get some of that corrupt money to come my way” argument.

But what I find completely hypocritical are the letters that these politicians are writing in support of their pet projects. At the same time that Sessions was attacking the stimulus, calling it a wasteful “trillion dollar spending spree” that wasn’t about “growing the economy and creating jobs” and saying it was an “abject failure”, his letter to the Transportation Secretary asking for $81 for his rail project talked about how the project “will create jobs, stimulate the economy, improve regional mobility and reduce pollution.”

Even Tea Party favorites like Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and Minnesota Rep Michele Bachmann, staunch libertarians like Ron Paul, and campaigners against pork like John McCain wrote letters and made phone calls asking for stimulus money. Scott Brown claimed that the stimulus “didn’t create one new job” but then turned around and wrote a letter in support of a $45 million stimulus grant that he said would “help prepare our next generation of entrepreneurs and job creators.” Michele Bachmann called it “the failed Pelosi trillion-dollar stimulus” but wrote more than a half dozen letters on behalf of proposed stimulus grants, including one where she argued that the project “would directly produce 1,407 new jobs per year while indirectly producing 1,563 a year – a total of 2,970 jobs each year after the project’s completion.” Indeed, the GOP “Pledge to America” specifically promises to cancel all unspent stimulus dollars if Republicans regain control of Congress in the upcoming election.

The hypocrisy isn’t limited to Republicans of course. I’m not just talking about conservative Democrats who voted against the bill but then thrust their hand out to benefit from it. There are Democrats (including Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid) who boasted about how they prevented lawmakers from inserting specific “earmarks” into the bill, but then turned around and engaged in behind-the-scenes letter writing campaigns to direct the money their way. For example, Democrat Brad Ellsworth was originally against the stimulus bill, but after receiving a significant donation from Duke Energy’s political action committee he changed his mind and voted for it, and then helped Duke receive a grant from the Energy Department.

At the CPI site, you can enter the name of your state and see letters written by your politicians requesting stimulus money. Using the Freedom of Information Act, CPI was able to obtain over 1500 letters from politicians that were written to just three departments (Transportation, Energy, and Commerce).



  1. patriotsgt wrote:

    IK – I’m glad you included more then one side as participating in this thing. It is a non-partisan problem.

    On one hand I believe it’s a politicians duty to take care of constituents by bringing some pork spending back home. On the other is the fiscal responsibility to not overspend. Tough nut to solve.
    My proposal would be to give every representitve (in the house) and every senator a pork spending budget. Say each congressperson got 10 million and each senator got 50 millon. That would be just under 5 bill for the house and 5 bill for the senate. This amount could then be budgeted (which they don’t seem to do anymore). Reps from the same state and their senators could pool money for a big project, but it would keep it under control, out in the open, eliminate pork litter in other bills and keep it local. Once aa year, a congressional (both houses) pork funding bill could be written and line item each project that got funded and with how much.

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  2. I think what they fail to admit is that ultimately it will be their duty to make sure that stimulus money goes to create jobs. The money, in and of itself, doesn’t do a thing until they ask for some of it.

    Somehow the irony is that they sure could use the cash, but somehow campaigning against it gets them votes. Perhaps voters just don’t know what’s good for them.

    So the moral of the story is that if you’re elected to office, loudly protest everything that would be better for America, but then vote for and do things that would be better for America?

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  3. Don wrote:

    One distinction I’d like to make between strictly pork barrel projects, stimulus funds are (theoretically) distributed based on ranking criteria and reasonably transparent grant/contract award processes. Pork barrel projects are not.

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  4. Bert wrote:

    I don’t really see a problem with most of this. A politician may be against a funding, but that doesn’t mean his constituents don’t have to pay their part. So they still deserve a portion of the money.

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  5. Iron Knee wrote:

    Don, that’s a good point. I’d like to add that some of these projects, for which Congresspeople wrote letters, were NOT funded. So (hopefully) it was the best projects that were funded. If they were pork, then the money would be allocated in whatever bill to which the pork was attached. Wouldn’t matter if it was a good projects or a bridge to nowhere.

    Bert, I think you didn’t read the post carefully. I don’t have a problem with Congresspeople trying to steer stimulus funds to local projects. I just find it hypocritical that they would claim that the stimulus didn’t create any jobs, while at the same time claiming that the project they want funded by the stimulus will create jobs. That’s what we call lying.

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  6. Mad Hatter wrote:

    This seems very newsworthy to me. A politician passionately votes and campaigns against the Stimulus Bill as not creating any jobs and then puts in writing that a Stimulus funded project WILL create jobs. Why aren’t we seeing this in the national news media?? Oh, apparently, the national news corporations probably don’t want us to see this.

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  7. Sammy wrote:

    I also have a huge problem with a congressperson (like my own, Cathy McMorris-Rogers) loudly denouncing the stimulus, voting NO, and using her opposition to the stimulus as a campaign plank, all the while posing with a huge cardboard check paid for with stimulus money, to show how she is working on behalf of her constituents. She gets to show her conservative constituents how she stood strong against the Democrats while still taking the money she opposed.

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  8. starluna wrote:

    I second what Don said.

    I see most of these letters as almost like form letters. The majority are written by interns or aides using language provided by the applicant. When you apply for federal funds from any agency, your chances of getting the grant increase when you include a letter from your senator or congressperson. If you don’t, most agencies will wonder whether you have the support needed to pull off big projects.

    What would be more hypocritical for me would be if those same politicians went the extra step and called the agency and personally lobbied on behalf of the grant application. When I was working in a health care facility, we always tried to get our local and federal politicians to actually call in addition to writing a letter. We always got our grant when there was a personal effort made to show support of the project.

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Permalink
  9. Perhaps we should all be checking out these letters, reviewing hour our congresspeople voted on the issue, and then writing them letters of our own…

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink
  10. Iron Knee wrote:

    I should be clear — I’m not opposed to having politicians write letters or even call in support of projects. That actually seems like something that a politician *should* do. But it should be transparent.

    The letters should be publicly available (like on the web, without all the hassle of a FOIA request) along with information about any possibly related contributions made to the politician. What I don’t like is letter writing and other lobbying done in exchange for a campaign contribution. We can’t stop that, but we can certainly make them visible.

    And CGE, as I noted in the original post, you can go to the CPI website and see the letters written by your local politician.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink