The Real Sarah Palin Scandal

Labor Day brought us an ugly media feeding frenzy when it surfaced that Sarah Palin's teenage daughter is pregnant. But the real scandal for John McCain's V.P.-to-be is the flurry of stories that as a politician in Alaska, Palin had a voracious appetite for the very congressional earmarks and pork barrel spending that John McCain has made a signature issue of trying to stamp out.

As mayor of Wasilla, a suburb of Anchorage, Palin hired one of Alaska's most connected lobbying firms to secure almost $27 million in federal appropriations for her constituents, according to the Washington Post. Wasilla benefited mightily from Palin's decision: federal earmarks for $900,000 in municipal sewer repairs, $1.9 million for a local transportation hub, and $15 million for a rail link, among other pet projects. For a town of just 6,700 people, this amounted to thousands of dollars per resident in federal largess. And the lobbying firm, Robertson, Monagle, & Eastaugh, wasn't just any band of wannabe legislators. The firm is closely linked to Alaska's two most notorious pork barrel Republicans, Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young (Stevens was indicted this summer for accepting and failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from VECO, a now-defunct oil services firm).

It gets worse. The McCain camp has made much of Palin's supposedly principled decision as governor to decline federal money to build the "Bridge to Nowhere," a national symbol of pork barrel spending run amok. In her speech accepting the position as McCain's running mate, Palin recalled: "I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' on that bridge to nowhere....'If our state wanted a bridge,' I said, 'we'd build it ourselves.'"

Stirring stuff. But as USA Today reports, Palin was actually for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. Campaigning for governor in 2006, Palin trumpeted her support for the $233 million bridge to reach an island of just 50 inhabitants. And displaying an unnerving understanding of how the dirty appropriations game is played, she even urged quick action to build the bridge while Alaska's congressional delegation (i.e., Stevens and Young) was well-positioned to secure the necessary federal tax dollars. Only when the bridge became a public relations debacle did Palin flip positions and declare that Alaska didn't need it after all.

We've been told by the McCain camp to overlook Palin's thin résumé because she's an insurgent pork-busting reformer in the mold of John McCain. We've been misled. Palin was looking for federal handouts just like every other self-interested politician that John McCain excoriates. Take that card away, and what does she really offer?

That's the real scandal about Sarah Palin.