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Jamie Radtke wants to tag George Allen, the frontrunner in the June 12 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, as a big spender.
In a recent web video, Radtke’s campaign claims that Allen "voted for 40,000 earmarks" during his previous term as a senator from 2001 to 2007. Earmarks are money sent to constituents for pet projects by members of Congress.
Last year, we ruled that Radtke’s claim that Allen "had 40,000 earmarks" was False. Her campaign sought to clarify her words, saying Radtke’s statement merely meant Allen had voted for that many earmarks. We did not accept their explanation and pointed out several other claims by Radtke that suggested Allen personally requested all that pork.
This time around, Radtke has altered her verb and given us a new claim to check. Did Allen really vote for 40,000 earmarks during his Senate term?
Chuck Hansen, a spokesman for the campaign, said the number is based on a calculation by the Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit group that tracks earmarks and releases annual reports of "pork projects."
Allen, as a senator, voted on the budgets from fiscal years 2002 to 2006. The 2007 budget did not pass until late January of that year, a few weeks after Allen left the Senate. He was defeated the previous fall by Democrat Jim Webb.
The five budgets Allen voted on included 52,319 earmarks valued at $121.8 billion, according to the Citizens Against Government Waste. Hansen said that Radtke’s campaign, seeking to be conservative in its claim, chopped off about 25 percent the Citizens’ numbers and estimated Allen voted for 40,000 earmarks valued at $90 billion.
But there’s an important fact that Radtke omits: Allen did not vote on each earmark individually. They were attached to about four dozen major appropriations bills that Allen supported during his time in the Senate. Those bills authorized a total of about $4.4 trillion in discretionary spending programs -- including defense, education and justice -- and the earmarks added up to less three percent of that total.
Even the watchdog groups that have criticized earmarks as wasteful don’t totally blame Allen for supporting appropriations bills that kept government operating.
"If anyone against earmarks voted against appropriations bills, we wouldn’t get anything done," said Leslie Paige, media director for Citizens Against Government Waste. "We don’t think that’s very telling. We would really rather look at what the member of Congress requested in earmarks and what bills they introduced on their own."
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Allen didn’t necessarily support "each and every earmark." He cited the $225 million "Bridge to Nowhere," connecting the city of Ketchikan, Alaska, with the Island of Gravina, which has 50 residents.
Allen voted for a $286.5 billion highway and transportation bill in 2005 that funded the bridge. Later that year, he got a chance vote specifically on the earmark, when a measure came up to move funding from the Alaska project to a bridge damaged by Hurricane Katrina on I-10 in New Orleans. Allen was one of 15 supporters of the unsuccessful amendment.
Ellis, however, does not not give Allen a free pass on earmarks. He noted a few lawmakers -- including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- who voted against spending bills because they objected to earmarks.
Allen "was part of the system and certainly got earmarks when he was in office as well," Ellis said. "You don’t get a total mulligan because the earmarks were part of much larger bills, but it does need that context."
We don’t know how many of those earmarks Allen actually sponsored or requested. Members of Congress weren’t required to disclose whether they requested a particular line item until the year after he left office in 2008. During Allen’s term, Virginia received 1,135 earmarks, valued at about $1.2 billion, which could have been requested by any of Virginia’s 13-member delegation.
Allen clearly sought pork for Virginia. "Every single earmark I’ve gotten, I’m proud of," he told a town hall meeting in Chesterfield County on March 20, 2006, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article. Allen said then that legislators who attach earmarks to appropriations bills should be identified.
A few months later, Allen and other members of Virginia's congressional delegation refused cooperate with a Times-Dispatch reporter’s request to identify the earmarks they requested during fiscal 2006.
In this year’s campaign, Allen is calling for a ban on earmarks until the federal budget is balanced. Afterwards, earmarks would require a two-thirds majority.
Radtke claims that Allen, during his term in the Senate, voted for 40,000 earmarks.
We have one quibble. Allen did not vote on the earmarks individually. The items were attached to massive appropriations bills supported by Allen that kept the federal government operating. The earmarks amounted to less than 3 percent of the spending contained in those laws.
But unlike a few lawmakers, Allen never protested the secretive earmark process by voting against an appropriations bill. He went along with the system and said he was "proud" of the earmarks he got for Virginia.
The appropriations bills Allen backed had 52,319 earmarks, according to the Citizens Against Government Waste. Radtke attaches a smaller number to Allen, but we won’t penalize her for understating her case.
So Radtke’s statement is accurate but needs clarification. We rate it Mostly True.
Radtke for Senate, "George Allen, the Right Choice?" (video), March 28, 2012.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Jamie Radtke says George Allen had 40,000 earmarks while senator," May 13, 2012.
Emails from Chuck Hansen, April 11, 2012.
Citizens Against Government Waste, "Pork Barrel Report," accessed April 11, 2012.
OpenCongress.org, "Continuing resolution," accessed April 11, 2012.
Interview with Leslie Paige, media director for Citizens Against Government Waste, April 12, 2012.
Interview with Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, April 12, 2012.
Email from Thomas Mann, senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, April 12, 2012.
George Allen, Blueprint for America’s Comeback, accessed April 12, 2012.
PolitiFact Ohio, "Marcy Kaptur claims Dennis Kucinich voted 'no' on new manufacturing jobs," Feb. 24, 2012.
PolitiFact, "Rick Perry says Rick Santorum voted for a teapot museum," Jan. 3, 2012.
PolitiFact Virginia, "George Allen claims he was one of a dozen senators to vote against the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’," Dec. 27, 2011.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Allen defends use of special appropriations," March 21, 2006.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Cash for pet projects is a hard habit to break," July 9, 2006.
Office of Management and Budget, "Budget Authority for Discretionary Programs: 1976 - 2017," accessed April 16, 2012.
Thomas, Status of Appropriation Bills: 1998-2013, accessed April 16, 2012.
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