- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sen. John McCain vows to hold members of Congress accountable for requesting money for pork-barrel projects, but that hasn’t stopped him from enlisting fundraising help from several lawmakers who sponsored tens of millions of dollars in “earmarks” in this year’s federal spending bills.

Of the seven Republican members of the House who bundled hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations for Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign, only two have sworn off earmarks, according to watchdog groups.

Five others - Reps. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, Fred Upton of Michigan, George Radanovich of California, and Joe L. Barton and Pete Sessions, both of Texas - sponsored or co-sponsored more than $50 million in earmarks in fiscal 2008. They also raised $400,000 to $950,000 in political donations to help Mr. McCain secure the Republican nomination.

These elected officials make no apologies for seeking earmarks even as the man they are trying to put in the White House calls such spending measures corrupt and abusive.

“The congressman has not taken the earmark-moratorium pledge,” said Radanovich spokesman Spencer Pedersen. “He agrees with Senator McCain that there are an abundance of wasteful, irresponsible earmarks, but he also believes that it is his job as a member of Congress to represent his constituents and make earmark requests that he determines appropriate for the federal government to help fund.”

Mr. Sessions, who has raised up to a quarter-million dollars for Mr. McCain, requested $2.9 million in earmarks in fiscal 2008, according to data compiled by the Citizens Against Government Waste. He, too, declines to swear off earmarks, although he said he agrees with Mr. McCain that “wasteful earmarks have become a symbol of broken Washington.”

“Until earmark reform or a bipartisan moratorium is implemented, I have chosen to return tax dollars to Texas for select meritorious projects that meet specific accountability and transparency standards - including business and matching-fund plans, financial-interest declarations and online disclosure - that my Republican colleagues and I believe Congress should adopt,” Mr. Sessions said.

Mr. McCain has a different view.

“I promise you I’ll take an ink pen, and I will veto every pork-barrel earmark spending bill that comes across my desk,” Mr. McCain said to a cheering crowd at a campaign rally in Blaine, Minn., last week. “You will know their names, and I will make them famous.”

At a speech at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in April, Mr. McCain pledged to seek line-item veto authority to end earmarks “once and for all.”

“I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks,” he said.

Mr. Upton sponsored or co-sponsored more than dozen earmarks worth $15.8 million in fiscal 2008, including one for $4.8 million for “wood utilization” research that previously has been derided by watchdog groups and even Mr. McCain’s own campaign Web site.

“Congressman Upton looks forward to working closely with President McCain as he seeks to reform Washington and turn off the spigot of wasteful, pork-barrel spending,” said Upton spokesman Sean Bonyun, who added that Mr. Upton wasn’t the primary sponsor of the wood utilization request.

Mr. Bachus, ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, sought a dozen earmarks totaling more than $7 million. Through a spokesman, Mr. Bachus declined to comment for this article, citing a busy schedule owing to hearings concerning financial-bailout issues.

Mr. Barton’s office did not return phone messages.

McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said the senator’s position on earmarks is well-known among supporters and critics alike. He said Mr. McCain would not shy away from making decisions on earmarks that might anger supporters.

“John McCain didn’t win ‘Mister Congeniality’ in the U.S. Senate by consistently opposing the earmarking process that’s corrupted our Congress and railing against wasteful spending, not only by the Democrats but by the Republicans,” he said.

“This is somebody who has taken on his own party, whereas Senator Obama has no record for cutting government spending.”

Two of the McCain bundlers, Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois, support an earmark moratorium backed by Mr. McCain and his Democratic opponent.

But Leslie Paige, spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, said all of Mr. McCain’s congressional fundraisers should halt their earmark requests.

“If you’re supporting one of the biggest anti-earmark champions to walk into Congress, then it probably would behoove you to adopt that same philosophy,” she said.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama said no members of Congress are serving as fundraisers for the Democratic candidate’s campaign.

Still, earmarks have emerged as a big issue in the presidential race.

Republicans have attacked Mr. Obama for seeking nearly $1 billion in earmarks since taking office in 2005 and they are pressing his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, to release his earmark requests amid scrutiny about the work of his lobbyist son, R. Hunter Biden.

The Obama campaign chided Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for not releasing her earmark requests earlier this year, but it hasn’t yet released what projects Mr. Biden has requested since his election to the Senate in 1972.

Meanwhile, Democrats have tried to undercut Mr. McCain’s reformer image by pointing out that running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, supported earmarks while she served as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and as governor.