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When House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, urged President Obama to veto the $410 billion omnibus spending bill because of all the earmarks in it, he spoke from particularly high ground on the issue.
"I don't do earmarks," Boehner said in a news conference on March 12, 2009. "I've never done one. I'm not going to do one."
Indeed, that's what he promised back in 1990 when he was first running for Congress. He often says he told voters, "If you are electing me to raid the federal treasury on your behalf, you're electing the wrong guy."
For eighteen years, Boehner says he hasn't wavered.
A strict earmark-free record would put him in rare company, so we decided to check it out.
"He hasn't taken any," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, an advocacy group that doggedly tracks earmarks. "He has bragged about that long before this ever became a big deal, and he's right."
We reviewed press coverage of Boehner since he was elected and couldn't find any either.
We did find several instances where local officials pushing for various highway projects ran up against Boehner's hard line. In an article in the Dayton Daily News in 2002, one official lamented that his area would have difficulty getting federal money for a highway project because of the congressman's policy.
"If you're looking for a congressman to go after a bunch of earmarks, he's not your guy,'" said Bryan Bucklew, vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
It's a principled stance that hasn't always sat well with fellow Republican legislators who believe in earmarks, either.
But Boehner has stuck to his pledge. In May 2008, he told the Wall Street Journal, "It might have been the best decision I ever made."
Yet despite his personal ban, Boehner has never argued for earmarks to be eliminated completely.
"I don't think I want to hold all my colleagues to that same standard," Boehner said in a Fox News Sunday interview on Feb. 5, 2006. "There's an appropriate place for some of these earmarks, but we need less numbers of earmarks and more transparency and more accountability. Members' names ought to be associated with them. They ought to be visible. And members ought to have a chance to see these before they become law."
This year, Boehner was joined in eschewing earmarks by other House Republican leaders: Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana. But in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., sponsored or cosponsored 53 earmarks worth $75.5 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
All told, TCS counted more than 8,500 disclosed earmarks in the omnibus bill, coming to $7.7 billion. Together with $6.6 billion in disclosed earmarks in the three 2009 spending bills that passed in the fall, earmarks for the year come to $14.3 billion, which is $500 million less than earmarks last year. As is the custom, Republicans, as the minority party, got about 40 percent of them.
Of the 178 Republican House members, only 39 did not have earmarks in the omnibus, according to TCS. Three Democrats did not accept earmarks.
As for Boehner, he can rightfully claim he hasn't ever asked for or taken an earmark. We rule his statement True.
Fox news, Transcript: House Majority Leader Boehner on 'FNS,' Feb. 05, 2006
MSNBC, Transcript: "Meet the Press," Interview with Boehner , Feb. 5, 2006
Wall Street Journal, John Boehner: Minority Leader in a Storm , by Kimberley A. Strassel, May 24, 2008
CQ Politics, GOP Faces Obstacle in Earmark Fight: Themselves , by Bennett Roth, March 10
CQ Transcriptswire, Rep. Boehner holds a news conference, March 12, 2009
Interview with Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, March 13, 2009
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