Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama tried to direct more than $3 million in taxpayer funds to a Chicago museum whose chairman is one of the Illinois senator’s largest campaign fundraisers.
Mr. Obama has twice since fiscal 2006 sought to have taxpayers foot the bill for a new theater projector and other equipment at the Adler Planetarium on the Lake Michigan waterfront. Neither of the requests, which totaled $3.3 million, was approved by Congress, the museum said.
The planetarium’s chairman, then and still, is Frank Clark, chief executive of ComEd, a unit of Chicago-based Exelon Energy. He has pledged to raise more than $200,000 for Mr. Obama’s run for the White House.
Moreover, the Adler Planetarium is represented by the lobbying firm National Group LLP, co-founded by William Oldaker, who helped launch Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s political action committee in 2005. Mr. Oldaker, a partner with the Delaware Democrat’s son in another Washington lobbying and law firm, is no longer involved with Mr. Biden’s PAC, Unite Our States.
Obama campaign aides said the requests for the Adler were among several worthwhile projects supported over the years by the senator on behalf of universities, hospitals and other nonprofit institutions in his home state.
“Senator Obama is firmly committed to enhancing our nation’s science education programming, and he joined a bipartisan coalition of Illinois members of Congress, including Senator [Richard J.] Durbin and Congressmen [Mark Steven] Kirk, [Jesse L.] Jackson Jr., [Danny K.] Davis, and [Rahm] Emanuel in requesting funding to enhance and restore the planetarium,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
Mr. Obama’s Senate office last year disclosed his fiscal 2008 earmark requests.
Earmarking is becoming an increasingly big issue in the presidential race.
Democrats have sought to paint Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as flip-flopping on her position on the infamous “bridge to nowhere” earmark. They said she supported it before she opposed it.
They also said she has sought tens of millions of dollars in earmarks as governor and mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.
Mr. Obama’s office said at the time that the $3 million request for the Adler was made because its projector was failing, “leaving the theater dark and groups of school students and other interested museum-goers without this very valuable and exciting learning experience.”
Two years earlier, Mr. Obama sought $300,000 for the Adler in another unsuccessful earmark request.
But with Mr. Clark also serving as a big Obama fundraiser, the Adler request also is the sort spending proposal that invites scrutiny from Republicans scouring Mr. Obama’s earmarks for political fodder in the presidential campaign.
“His earmark requests benefiting projects tied to friends and contributors is further proof that Obama’s ‘change’ slogan is just words and nothing more,” Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz said of the Adler request.
Officials for the Obama campaign and the Adler scoffed at the suggestion of political favoritism.