News continues to break regarding vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin that could, in the long term, pose serious problems to one of the main thrusts of the McCain campaign: the message of conservative reform.
The presentation of Palin as an anti-earmark, fiscally conscious pol is challenged by a review of recent political records. As mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she hired the firm of Hoffman Silver Gilman & Blasco to help secure spending projects for her town. The expenditure apparently paid off. From 2000 through 2002, Wasilla received more than $5.5 million in federal cash for transportation and social service projects.
According to the group Citizens Against Government Waste, the city received $1 million for a bus facility in 2000. In 2001, the Wasilla Health Center was granted a half million dollars for a community mental health center. That same year the city's emergency shelter also was granted $500,000 for a transitional living program for homeless youth. A year later, the Wasilla regional dispatch center received $1 million in pork, the city was granted $1.5 million for water and sewer improvements, and received an additional $600,000 for a bus facility.
The use of the earmark system that -- as a vice presidential candidate -- Palin now criticizes continued into her tenure as governor. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the state of Alaska requested 31 earmarks worth $197.8 million for next year's federal budget. And according to Citizens Against Government Waste, Alaska received $379,669,715 in pork during fiscal year 2008, nearly $100 million more than any other state.
There are important caveats to this information: projects funded by federal earmarks are often viewed positively by voters, particularly in Alaska, and analysts argue that many earmarks serve important community functions and end up saving taxpayer funds in the long run.
But John McCain has made earmark bashing a cornerstone of his campaign, calling the spending projects a "gateway to corruption." And since taking on the responsibility of running mate, Palin too has presented herself as a thorn in the side of the earmark culture. When introduced to the public last Friday, McCain said of Palin: she "championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending." Palin herself touted her opposition to the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, the nearly 400 million-dollar project that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens requested and which became a rallying cry for McCain. As subsequent news reports pointed out, during her gubernatorial run in 2006, Palin backed the project and sympathized with the communities who wanted the Bridge to Nowhere money. Only when it became a national joke did she change her tune.
Making matters worse, on Monday the Washington Post reported that Palin had previously served on Ted Steven's political 527 group. The revelation is a notably thorny one for McCain. The Arizona Republican has butted heads with Stevens over spending matters (Palin, too, has challenged the longtime Senator on the matter). And Stevens was recently indicted on seven counts of corruption. On Sunday, moreover, McCain's chief surrogate and confidante, Sen. Lindsey Graham said of Palin's foreign policy experience, "if she can handle Ted Stevens she can handle Russia."