Thursday, November 27th, 2014
Pants on Fire!
Santorum
Rick Santorum says Rick Perry requested 1,200 earmarks as governor of Texas.

Rick Santorum on Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 in comment to reporters.

Rick Santorum says Rick Perry requested 1,200 congressional earmarks

Rick Santorum, who once took fire from Rick Perry for seeking earmarked spending while in Congress, lashed back after a town hall meeting in South Carolina.

On Jan. 11, 2012, eight days before the Texas governor suspended his presidential campaign, Santorum said: "Rick Perry requested 1,200 earmarks as governor of Texas," according to a blog posted by MSNBC. "It’s sort of hard for somebody who’s been in public life and elected office for 25 years to be the outsider when he also requested over a thousand earmarks from Washington," he added.

We wondered how Santorum arrived at Perry’s 1,200, a figure the former Pennsylvania senator aired again a few days later, according to a Jan. 16, 2012, post on ABC News’ blog The Note.

A refresher: According to the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense, an earmark is a legislative provision that sets "aside funds within an account for a specific program, project, activity, institution or location. These measures normally circumvent merit-based or competitive allocation processes and appear in spending, authorization, tax and tariff bills."

Earmarks, which Congress banned from its budgeting and appropriations process in 2011, draw fire in some quarters because they enabled individual lawmakers to carve out funding for pet projects without public scrutiny. Some advocacy organizations say they’re still finding earmarks--sometimes called pork--in legislation.

Earmark requests that raised some eyebrows include: the so-called Bridge to Nowhere project in Alaska--something for which Santorum voted, says a Perry ad (that’s Mostly True, PolitiFact found); $522,000 for cranberry and blueberry disease and breeding in New Jersey, and $1 million for a Woodstock museum, honoring the 1969 music festival in upstate New York.

Santorum’s campaign didn’t reply to our requests for his backup.

It would not be a shock, though, if Perry was involved in seeking earmarks. As noted in a Dec. 29, 2011, Austin American-Statesman blog post, headlined  "Texas has sought its own earmarks under Perry’s leadership," a July 2006 strategic plan for the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations, which then lobbied for the state in Washington, said that with the Texas Department of Transportation, it had secured "over $669 million in highway earmarks for the state, $78 million in bus and bus facility earmarks, and $505 million in New Starts transit earmarks in the five-year surface transportation bill."

At the time, the blog post says, Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and then-House Speaker Tom Craddick, comprised the advisory board for the state-federal office.

For this article, we looked for signs of Perry seeking Santorum’s proclaimed 1,200 earmarks.

Steve Ellis, who studies earmarks as vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that says it works to advance government transparency and cut wasteful spending, told us that from October 2007 through September 2010, Texas received 1,342 earmarks valued at $1.7 billion. That money could have gone to projects anywhere in Texas, he said, from Fort Hood to county governments. "It’s the entire state of Texas so it could be Democrats, Republicans, whomever, asking," Ellis said. "Whether Gov. Perry wanted them all, didn’t want them all, I have no idea."

Ellis said that after October 2007, federal disclosure laws required Congress to list any earmarks in each piece of legislation. Staffers at Taxpayers for Common Sense would comb the legislation for additional earmarks and do their own calculations to determine things like the number of earmarks that went to each state.

Citizens Against Government Waste, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization that started when Ronald Reagan was president, also tracks earmarks. Its president, Tom Schatz, told us by email that between 2008 and 2010, Texas received 1,151 earmarks worth $1.4 billion, according to the organization’s earmarks database. The database, also known as the "Congressional Pig Book," is compiled by staffers at the organization who review legislation in search of earmarks, Schatz said.  

But there’s no way of telling how many of the earmarks originated with any governor, Schatz said, because earmarks are requested by members of Congress. "I’ve never seen a letter from any governor asking for a specific earmark," Schatz said, adding: "The only way to say that Gov. Perry ‘requested’ 1,200 earmarks, or more than 1,000 earmarks, is to attribute all of the (Texas) earmarks over that three-year period to him."

Full disclosure: In 2010, the group’s political arm, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, endorsed Perry for governor and, Schatz said, the council might endorse a presidential hopeful later this year. Schatz said he was speaking about earmarks on behalf of the group, not its PAC.

The figures Schatz gave us--1,151 earmarks worth $1.4 billion--differed some from those we received from Taxpayers for Common Sense: 1,342 earmarks valued at $1.7 billion. Ellis said the discrepancy is likely the result of slightly different definitions of earmarks. He said that everyone would have the same initial list of earmarks, provided through disclosure laws, but additional searching of legislation could yield findings that some groups would call an earmark and some wouldn’t. Citizens Against Government Waste lists seven criteria for determining earmarks.

According to news accounts, some Texas-tied requests for earmarks during Perry’s time in office were claimed by Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. A Feb. 4, 2010 news article in The Houston Chronicle said that Hutchison, a "senior Republican on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, points with pride to the $2.3 billion in Texas earmarks she has obtained over the last two years. Among the projects delivered by the senator are highway construction, NASA funding and expansion of Fort Hood and other military installations in an era of base cutbacks."

In November 2010, PolitiFact Texas examined Hutchison’s record on earmarks by citing a study by Taxpayers for Common Sense, which ranked Hutchison 19th out of the 100 U.S. senators for steering tax dollars to specific home-state projects. The state’s junior senator, John Cornyn, ranked 54th.

In October 2009, The Dallas Morning News reported that by Hutchison's accounting, she had steered $8.7 billion to Texas over the previous five years. "And as Congress finalizes the 2010 budget," the News' story says, "the haul will probably exceed $10 billion – a staggering sum that has never been tallied before. It ranks her among the most successful earmarkers in congressional history."

Ray Sullivan, a Perry campaign spokesman, said the governor has a history of rejecting earmarks, something Perry noted when he faced off with Hutchison in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary. "Perry has long been opposed to congressional earmarks and other irresponsible spending in Washington," Sullivan said in an email.

We asked Sullivan how many earmarks Perry sought. "I was chief of staff for two years and recall no such requests from the Governor’s Office during that time," Sullivan said in another email.  "From time to time Gov. Perry asked the federal government to return Texas taxpayer money to Texas for priority needs, including disaster assistance and border security."

Upshot: We failed to come up with a count of earmarks pursued or supported by Perry.

Put another way, the only count we found that might potentially support Santorum’s 1,200 figure was the total earmarks that went to all of Texas over a recent period.

State government may have played a role in requesting some of that funding. But it’s more than a stretch to say that Perry himself sought all the earmarks. It’s Pants on Fire!