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Donations flow in from beneficiaries of earmark funds


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POSTED: Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hawaii's four-person congressional delegation has picked up $228,560 in campaign donations from companies or organizations that they designated for federal earmarks.

Leading the list compiled with Federal Election Commission data going back to 2007 was Sen. Daniel Inouye, who collected $173,000.

The figures come from a study made by the anti-earmark group Taxpayers for Common Sense and the government reform organization Center for Responsive Politics.

Of the companies getting earmarks from Inouye, defense contractor Lockheed Martin gave Hawaii's senior senator the most money—$61,300 since 2007.

The earmark went for “;development and field test of a situational awareness and tactical decision support system for a counter-sniper weapon system,”; according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“;My campaign activities are kept very separate and are in full compliance with federal and state law,”; Inouye said in an e-mail from his press secretary Friday.

Earmarks are federal funds given to companies, projects or organizations. The funds are not part of the usual appropriation request, are usually not subject to a public hearing and are requested by a specific member of Congress.

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Critics say they lead to unchecked federal spending. Others, such as Inouye, say they amount to less than 1 percent of the federal budget and serve as a way for Congress to direct funds to needed projects.

Taxpayers for Common Sense notes that Inouye's Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee has grabbed 60 percent of the $2.7 billion in earmarks in their version of the 2010 defense bill, which is expected to pass Congress before Christmas.

The taxpayer organization adds that companies that gave money to senators got more earmarks than companies that did not give.

“;While contributor companies only represented 25 percent of the total requests, they got 56 percent of the earmark totals,”; Taxpayers for Common Sense noted on its web page.

Inouye said there was nothing improper about his earmarks or donations.

“;My work is motivated by the immediate needs of my fellow Hawaii residents and to position Hawaii to thrive,”; Inouye said.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is expected to announce today that he will resign from Congress to run for governor, was also singled out for giving an earmark to a firm whose vice president was a campaign supporter.

CBS News featured Abercrombie in a piece on earmarks last month. The Hawaii Democrat had steered $3.5 million in earmarks to Pacific Biodiesel for a demonstration project growing plants on military land that could be turned into diesel fuel.

Kelly King, co-founder of the Kahului-based firm, was named one of four honorary co-chairs of Abercrombie's campaign for governor. She said she had requested the earmark to help her company before she was named a co-chair.

“;We were getting frustrated with the lack of access we were getting to federal grants and projects,”; King said in an interview last week.

She said her company had requested interviews with all four members of Hawaii's congressional delegation, but only Abercrombie and Rep. Mazie Hirono talked to her in person, and Abercrombie said her project was the sort of thing that the military in Hawaii should work on.

“;From what I know of Neil Abercrombie, I would have been supporting him anyway,”; King, a former member of the state Board of Education, said. King has personally donated $1,500 to Abercrombie campaign, but she said her firm had never contributed to Abercrombie.

Laurie Au, a spokeswoman for Abercrombie's campaign for governor, said the congressman keeps his campaign and congressional activities separate.

“;As long as earmarks are a tool to advance state and national interests, Congressman Abercrombie will continue to evaluate them on their merits and secure funding for worthy projects in Hawaii, whether for education, clean energy, health care, the environment, or developing high tech industries,”; Au said.

According to a study done with Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Center for Responsive Politics, Abercrombie sponsored or co-sponsored 41 earmarks totaling $165,034,800 in fiscal year 2009 ranking second out of 435 representatives.

Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, noted that every contribution from a client that won an earmark would have to be analyzed before saying the contribution was meant to influence an earmark.

Records for each member of Hawaii's delegation were not available for every year. Hirono, for instance, requested 71 earmarks totaling $162 million in 2009, but most of her earmarks are in conjunction with requests from other members of Congress.

Hirono received $12,400 in contributions from firms for whom she helped win earmarked federal money in fiscal 2008-09.

Sen. Dan Akaka shows $2,000 in contributions and earmarks of $2.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but the figures are incomplete and only show 2008.