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At the time, Mr. Obama’s wife was working as an executive for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Mr. Obama’s campaign said no conflict of interest arose because Mrs. Obama wasn’t involved in the research grant, which eventually went to another institution.

“Senator Obama joined a bipartisan coalition of Illinois members of Congress led by [House] Speaker Dennis Hastert in requesting funding for a previously established biodefense center, one of only several that exists around the nation, that includes the University of Chicago and 13 other Midwestern institutions and is charged with preparing the region to combat an outbreak,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.

Michelle Obama was not a lobbyist, and the medical center maintained a clear division between the personnel involved in community relations and federal government relations,” he said.

Both candidates support additional disclosure of such funding requests, aides said.

“Sure, while additional disclosure is always good, it unfortunately will not stop government waste,” Mr. Rogers said. “Only a real leader like John McCain with the courage to veto all earmarks can do that.”

Mr. LaBolt said, “Senator Obama has sponsored legislation that requires members of Congress to disclose their earmark requests, and he would support legislation that required members of Congress to disclose all of their funding requests.”

The Obama-signed request called the University of Chicago “the Midwest’s leader in national biodefense and homeland security research efforts.”

The request wasn’t the last time Mr. Obama sought federal money for the university system. Earlier this year, his campaign disclosed an old $1 million earmark request on behalf of the University of Chicago’s medical center to build a new pavilion. Mr. Obama’s campaign and the hospital have said Mrs. Obama wasn’t involved and the earmark was denied. Officials also have pointed out that Mr. Obama has sought money for other hospitals in Illinois.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said he sees no conflict of interest if Mrs. Obama wasn’t involved in the requests. Still, he said, the letter on behalf of the university’s grant proposal raises questions about the general practice of elected officials weighing in on a competitive grant selection process, where an award is supposed to be decided on the scientific merits.

“It’s a little concerning,” he said. “Congress shouldn’t be trying to influence a competitive award situation.”

In a reply to the Illinoisan lawmakers’ request, the Office of Legislative Affairs for Homeland Security noted that the award process for the grant was “highly competitive” and the University of Chicago would receive the same consideration as other applications.

McCain aides have lambasted Mr. Obama on the subject of earmarks, saying the senator from Illinois has requested nearly $1 billion in earmarks since joining the Senate. Mr. McCain, meanwhile, “has never requested an earmark,” Mr. Rogers said.

Regarding the McCain letter, James Chessum, administrator of the Greater Yuma, Ariz., Port Authority, which oversees the project, said organizers turned to Mr. McCain and other members of Arizona’s congressional delegation after the San Luis port project was not included in the 2006 budget.

“He doesn’t believe in earmarks, but we didn’t feel like this was an earmark,” Mr. Chessum said. “It was basically a government request. It wasn’t like us going in and saying, nobody wants this but us. The agencies agreed they needed it.

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