Which political activists do you trust?

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's old news of questionable accuracy but some political activists recycle it ad nauseam. That is what Citizens Against Government Waste did when they nominated Alaska Congressman Don Young as Porker of the Year for 2007.

That is based on an earmark in 2005 for a highway interchange in Florida that Young has been getting hammered for ever since.

Who is Citizens Against Government Waste? It is one of many Washington, D.C.-based lobby groups with high-sounding names but with low-down agendas.

One of its supporters is Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a medical doctor in private life. He sent a letter nationwide recently seeking donations for CAGW. He is a vocal critic of earmarks, but in 2005 Oklahoma had 157 earmarks, worth $246 million, 11 of them for medical programs. In his letter seeking donations, he credits CAGW with helping "expose and eliminate the $223 million earmark for Alaska's infamous Bridge to Nowhere."

In 2006, the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times reported that CAGW launched a campaign in support of avocados from Mexico and against avocados from California.

This is strange, the Times said, because CAGW has a reputation in Washington for keeping an independent eye on government spending. In the avocado dispute, it sent out press releases and urged its members to support avocados from Mexico. What motivated that action was $100,000 it received from Mexican growers.

None of the above has much to do with government waste. It has more to do with selling its reputation to raise money to enhance its questionable image as a protector of the public purse.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, another foe of earmarks, often quotes CAGW, especially when it announces Porker of the Year. McCain is a little two-faced about earmarks. The East Valley Tribune reported recently that Arizona has done well by earmarks.

The Tribune reports, however, that Arizona lawmakers are pikers when it comes to seeking earmarks. For 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sponsored at least 34 earmarks. The paper listed them. Two were for more than $10 million and 19 for more than $1 million, all for her San Francisco district.

So what does Alaska get? Young says: "In Fiscal Year 2008 I brought in funding for 18 projects and they totaled a little over $10.3 million. This is hardly a blip on the radar of a multibillion dollar budget, especially when other members earmark hundreds of millions." In appropriations bills for 2008, according to the Office of Management and Budget, there are 11,737 earmarks, totaling $16.9 billion.

One of Young's earmarks even helps Arizona. It is $1.6 million to develop a device to enable troops to detect enemies through walls. It is being developed in the Battle Lab at Arizona's Fort Huachuca and will be used by a Stryker Brigade out of Alaska's Fort Wainwright when it deploys to Iraq.

Ten million for a politician's hometown university to play with versus $1.6 million to improve protection of our troops. Who is the wasteful spender?

So in this election year, do we trust our elected representatives seeking fair treatment for Alaska despite overwhelming odds of being only three out of 535 members of Congress, and subjected to unfair criticism at home? Or do we trust congressmen from other states, and Washington-based special interest groups whose special interests are at odds with Alaskans and most Americans, at least those who grow avocados?

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