Few campaign gifts linked to earmarks


POSTED: Sunday, August 16, 2009

Two nonprofit organizations that keep an eye on the confluence of money and policy in Congress reported Thursday that Hawaii's congressional delegation won a huge amount of targeted federal spending last year but received few campaign contributions from beneficiaries of that spending.

In a first-of-its-kind arrangement, the Center for Responsive Politics and Taxpayers for Common Sense compared earmarks in federal appropriations bills for the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years with contribution data from recipients of the spending to all members of Congress.

The numbers showed that U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Neil Abercrombie, and U.S. Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, sponsored hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarked spending in several appropriations measures.

But the four Democrats collected $61,600 in campaign donations from beneficiaries of the earmarks last year and the first six months of this year.

Spokesmen for the two groups cautioned their findings are incomplete. That is mainly because unlike the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate did not release information on the ultimate destination of targeted spending, such as to contractors that perform work for federal agencies that receive earmarks.

Those restrictions are to be lifted this year during deliberations on 2010 appropriation measures, the spokesmen added.

Still, they contend their efforts eventually will shine a light on who benefits from earmarks and whether their congressional representatives are receiving political support from those beneficiaries in the form of campaign contributions.

“;The more that we arm the public with information about how business is done in Washington, then the better they're going to be to demand change and reform on how politicians decide to spend their tax dollars,”; said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“;The biggest thrust we're trying to make here is to link finally the campaign finance end with the earmark end and show possible patterns,”; said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics.

According to the data, Hirono and Abercrombie sponsored or co-sponsored earmarks in the 2008 and 2009 fiscal year appropriations measures totaling $274.5 million and $418.8 million, respectively. Akaka and Inouye were behind more than $1 billion and $2 billion in earmarks, respectively. Some of the earmarks sponsored by the House members were the same as those backed by the senators.

Hirono received contributions associated with two of her 134 earmarks: $6,000 from top officials at the University of Hawaii, and $1,000 from one or more employees of the Office of Naval Research.

The groups linked those donations to a $5.5 million earmark for a UH program to assess chemical weapons dumped into the ocean, and an $800,000 provision for a nanotechnology program at the Virginia-based naval research agency.

Abercrombie received $5,700 from top UH officials. He also garnered almost $5,000 from individuals related to defense contractor BAE Systems and $10,000 from the company's political action committee. The firm won a $2.4 million earmark for a marine mammal alert system in Honolulu. Abercrombie sponsored 79 earmarks.

Akaka sponsored or co-sponsored 156 earmarks in the 2008 and 2009 appropriations bills, according to the data. Of those, one was linked to contributions he received — $1,000 each from a top BAE employee and its PAC.

Inouye sponsored 324 earmarks, but the data linked no contributions to those spending provisions.

Rep. Mazie Hirono:

Part of her $274 million in earmarks helped two donors

Rep. Neil Abercrombie:

Two contributors benefited from his spending measures

Sen. Daniel Akaka:

One provision was tied to donor BAE Systems, a defense contractor

Sen. Daniel Inouye:

No contributions were linked to any of his 324 earmarks