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Friday, March 14, 2008

The Release of Barack Obama's 2005-06 Earmark Requests Brings up Questions

Barack Obama has released his earmarked federal spending requests for 2005 and 2006 having previously released his requests for 2007. In the recent release there are specific requests that are being questioned in the media today.
In the midst of all three presidential candidates, Clinton, Obama and McCain, backing a proposal in the Senate to ban all earmarks for one year, an amendment to the Senate's 2009 budget act, which the Senate rejected with a vote of 29-71, Barack Obama has released his list of requested earmarks for 2005-06, then calling on Hillary Clinton to release a list of hers.

The Senate roll call on that vote found here.

"Earmarking" is the word used for a provision in legislation that directs funds to be spent on specific projects. Usually, legislators seek to insert earmarks which direct a specified amount of money to a particular organization or project in his/her home state or district.

John McCain has long been known to be a vocal critic of earmarks and has refused to request spending for projects in his home state of Arizona. McCain recently challenged both of his Democratic rivals to reveal their earmarks for transparency.

Hillary Clinton ranked 10th highest in the list of Senators, for her $342 million worth of earmarks last year and has not released the details of her requests for 2007.

Barack Obama secured $98 million for Illinois projects for the fiscal year of 2008, but his requests totaled $311 million, according to the list he has just released.

Furthermore, according to information released Thursday by Obama, he had 138 earmark requests for the 2007 fiscal year.

His total requested funding was about $330 million.

One of those earmarks is being questioned. The earmark is listed as being for a "High Explosive Air Burst Technology Program".

Obama Requested $8 Million And Helped Secure $1.3 Million For The High Explosive Air Burst Technology Program. In 2006, Obama requested $8 million and helped secure $1.3 million for High Explosive Air Burst Technology funding. Through General Dynamics, this project supported the 25mm Bushmaster cannon, the primary weapon on the Army Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) and the US Marines’ Light Armor Vehicle (LAV). Under contract for System Design and Demonstration (SDD), GD-OTS is developing a Family of Ammunition for the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) to include a High Explosive Air Burst (HEAB) round. This program will upgrade the capability of the current forces BFV and LAV. Additional funding for the 25mm HEAB for the SFV and LAV will ensure this program will run effectively during its planned service until 2051. [House Report 109-676 (109th Congress); Obama Request Letter To The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, 2006]

That request resulted in $1.3 million in funding for the program, which was a defense project that was overseen by General Dynamics, one of the nation's largest military contractors. Obama's Illinois finance chairman, James S. Crown, serves on the company's board of directors and his family holds a large stake in the company.

Crown and his wife, Paula Crown, are members of Obama's National Finance Committee and have raised more than $200,000 for the Obama campaign, according to a list of fundraisers posted on Obama's campaign website.

Another one of the earmarks on the lists of requests was for the Construction Of A New Hospital Pavilion At The University Of Chicago, where Michelle Obama works:

Obama Requested $1 Million For Construction Of A New Hospital Pavilion At The University Of Chicago. In 2006, Obama requested that the University of Chicago receive $1 million to support its Construction of New Hospital Pavilion. For more than 75 years, the University of Chicago Hospitals (UCH) has provided state of the art medical care on the South Side of Chicago. UCH is one of the largest Medicaid providers in Illinois, and it provided more than $90 million in uncompensated care for Medicare and Medicaid patients this past year. To continue providing the best care for patients from all walks of life, UCH is proceeding with the construction of a new 600,000 square foot facility that will ensure their ability to provide the best care for patients well into the future. Funding will go towards assisting the construction and equipping a new hospital pavilion that will increase the Hospitals' clinical capacity by over one-third. [Obama Request Letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, 4/7/06]

The reason the media is questioning that particular earmark is because of what could be considered a conflict of interest.

His wife, Michelle Obama, has worked for the University of Chicago Hospitals since 2002, at the time she was executive director of community affairs, making a salary of, according to the CNN Money, $121,910. That salary rose to $316,962 in 2005 as she became vice president of community affairs, right after Barack Obama became the Senator for Illinois.

The Obama campaign says that neither of those earmarks were discussed with Michelle Obama or James S. Crown.

The complete list of requested earmarks for Barack Obama can be found here.

Aides to the Obama campaign say he will not be requesting any earmarks this year.

Now that Obama has released this list for public scrutiny, he is joining McCain is challenging Hillary Clinton to release her requested earmarks, in a release from the Obama Campign that says, "If Sen. Clinton will not agree to join Sen. Obama in releasing her earmark requests, voters should ask why she doesn't believe they have the right to know [how] she wants to spend their tax dollars."

H/T Talk Left and the Campaign Spot.

NYT is also discussing Obama calling for Hillary to release her requested earmarks.