ST. PAUL, Minn. – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin employed a lobbying firm to secure almost $27 million in federal earmarks for a town of 6,700 residents while she was its mayor, according to an analysis by an independent government watchdog.
There was $500,000 for a youth shelter, another $1.9 million for a transportation hub, $900,000 for sewer repairs, and $15 million for a rail project – all intended to benefit Palin’s town, Wasilla, about 45 miles north of Anchorage.
In introducing Palin as his running mate on Friday, Sen. John McCain cast her as a compatriot in his battle against wasteful federal spending. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, hailed Palin as a politician “with an outstanding reputation for standing up to special interests and entrenched bureaucracies – someone who has fought against corruption and the failed policies of the past, someone who’s stopped government from wasting taxpayers’ money.”
McCain’s crusade against earmarks – federal spending sought by members of Congress to benefit specific projects – has been a hallmark of his campaign. He has said earmarks are wasteful and are often inserted into bills with little oversight, sometimes by a single powerful member of Congress.
Palin has also railed against earmarks, touting her opposition to a $223 million bridge in a remote corner of the state as a prime credential for the vice presidential nomination.
In her years as mayor of Wasilla, however, Palin oversaw the hiring of Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh, an Anchorage-based law firm with close ties to Alaska’s most senior Republicans: Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens. The Wasilla account was handled by the former chief of staff to Stevens, Steven Silver, who is a partner in the firm.
Palin was elected mayor of Wasilla in 1996 on a campaign theme of “A time for change.” According to a review of congressional spending by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington, Wasilla did not get any federal earmarks in the first few years of Palin’s tenure.
U.S. Senate records show Silver’s firm began working for Palin in early 2000. Federal funds began flowing shortly thereafter.
In fiscal year 2000, Wasilla received a $1 million earmark, tucked into a transportation appropriations bill, for a rail-and-bus project in the town. And in the winter of 2000, Palin traveled to Capitol Hill to appear before the House and Senate appropriations committees to seek earmarks, according to a report in the Anchorage Daily News.
Palin and the Wasilla City Council increased Silver’s fee from $24,000 to $36,000 a year by 2001, according to Senate records.
Soon after, the city benefited from additional earmarks: $500,000 for a mental health center, $500,000 for the purchase of federal lands and $450,000 to rehabilitate an agricultural processing facility. Then there was the $15 million rail project, intended to connect Wasilla with town of Girdwood, where Stevens has a home.
The Washington trip is now an annual affair for Wasilla officials.
In fiscal year 2002, Wasilla took in $6.1 million in earmarks – about $1,000 in federal funds for every resident. By contrast, Boise – which has more than 190,000 residents – received $6.9 million in earmarks in fiscal year 2008.
All told, Wasilla benefited from $26.9 million in earmarks in Palin’s final four years in office.