JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Rep. W. Todd Akin has backed almost $100 million for pet projects in recent years, including money for home-state military programs and local highway work. During his Republican Senate primary this summer, Mr. Akin even aired a television ad proudly defending his effort to bring home federal dollars for production of military armor in his district.
Now Mr. Akin has aligned himself with a group that wants to ban these so-called earmarks, and the membership of the Senate Conservatives Fund has pledged $290,000 to help replenish the Republican's cash-strapped campaign against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Mr. Akin denies that it's a policy reversal and rejects any assertion of a quid pro quo for campaign cash. Five weeks to Election Day, the Republican is struggling to put back the pieces of his bid after his widely criticized statement that women have a biological defense against pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." Ms. McCaskill, who has been hammering Mr. Akin in television ads over that remark, now has a new line of criticism on federal spending.
Ms. McCaskill asserts that Mr. Akin's apparent evolution on earmarks undercuts the very essence of his campaign image as a "principled conservative" who stands firm for his beliefs.
"He defended (earmarks) as a constitutional principle, and then as soon as someone said there will be money for your campaign if you say you are no longer for earmarks, he said, 'OK,'" Ms. McCaskill, a vocal opponent of earmarks, told the Associated Press. Mr. Akin "tried to have it both ways, which is about as unprincipled as you can get."
Mr. Akin has remained competitive with Ms. McCaskill thanks largely to small-dollar donors and conservative Republicans who accepted his apology for the "legitimate rape" comment. They rallied to his cause when party leaders pulled their financial backing and tried to force him to quit the race. But Mr. Akin needs a steady stream of cash to continue airing his campaign message through Election Day, and the backing of the Senate Conservatives Fund marked his most significant financial commitment since his rape remark.
Mr. Akin insists there was no twisting or contorting to land the important endorsement of the formidable political action committee founded by conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican.
"I can tell you what I'm for or what I'm against, and as it turned out, that's pretty consistent — or almost exactly consistent — with where a lot of the Senate conservatives are," Mr. Akin said.
Senate rules define an earmark — or a "congressionally directed spending item," as it's officially termed — as a provision included in a bill at the request of a lawmaker that directs money to a specific entity, state or congressional district without going through a formula-driven or competitive award process. Earmarks now are banned in the Republican-controlled House, Senate Republicans have voted not to use them and a number of Democrats oppose them, most notably Ms. McCaskill.