McCain's pork project

SUMMARY: McCain hammers at this point of distinction: He hates pork-barrel spending; Obama revels in it.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain is trying hard to exploit his well-earned reputation in Washington as a foe of pork-barrel spending – the federal money directed by members of Congress to parochial projects in states and localities.

He's emphasizing the issue more lately as he tries to wrest away from Sen. Barack Obama the potent mantle of "candidate of change." McCain says he and running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would bring a true change in the way Washington works, as demonstrated by their opposition to the time-honored tradition of pork-barrel spending.

A PolitiFact review of McCain's attacks on Democratic nominee Obama, as well as McCain's boasts about his own record on pork, finds that the Arizona senator is largely on solid ground. There is a clear distinction between McCain and Obama on earmarks in federal spending bills, the traditional form in which Congress authorizes pork spending, even if McCain is often a bit too generous in describing his own record.

The latest instance comes in remarks McCain made at a rally in Tampa on Sept. 16. McCain said: "I have never asked for a single earmark, pork-barrel project for my state of Arizona. Sen. Obama has asked for $932-million in earmarks, literally one million dollars for every day that he's been in Congress." McCain had made nearly the identical claim just a week ago in mailer that is now circulating in Florida. "Obama has requested $1-million in pork barrel spending for every working day he has been in the Senate," it says, while "John McCain has never sought a single dollar."

The details on both of these claims are easy to track down.

Obama, on his Web site, has listed every earmark he's requested – but not necessarily received – since he came to the Senate in January 2005. The total, including earmarks in which he joined with other senators in making the request, is $931.3-million. Since he took office in January 2005, Obama has been a senator for about 930 working days, defined as Monday through Friday. That's right about $1-million per working day, though we do realize McCain didn't say 'working day' in his speech the way he did in the mailer.

McCain, meanwhile, has mostly eschewed earmarks, even if the Arizona senator should learn to never say "never" as he has claimed, erroneously, many times throughout the campaign.

As PolitiFact writer John Frank pointed out earlier this year, McCain has rarely sought pork, but he has on a few occasions, such as his 2006 legislation that asked for $10-million for an academic center at the University of Arizona to honor the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Or McCain's 2003 effort to use federal funds to buy property to create a buffer zone around Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, or his 1992 request that the Environmental Protection Agency provide $5-million toward a wastewater project in Nogales, Ariz.

While McCain advocates have argued in the past that these projects don't meet the definition of pork-barrel spending, pork critics disagree. "If it doesn't meet the technical term of earmark, it would probably meet the public idea of one," Pete Sepp, a vice president at the conservative, anti-pork National Taxpayers Union, told the New York Times in reference to the Rehnquist center request.