Romney, now a critic of earmarks, once sought them

The Morning Call

Mitt Romney’s biggest criticism of Rick Santorum is that the former Pennsylvania senator was a prolific earmarker who funneled federal dollars home to his state for pet projects.

There’s one problem with Romney’s critque. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney’s administration lobbied Congress for federal funds.

In a 2003 article in Boston-based CommonWealth magazine, Romney’s chief of legislative and intergovernmental affairs, Cindy Gillespie, discussed the state’s Washington lobbying office and is quoted saying it “exists for one reason: to increase the amount of federal funding coming back to the state.”

In the same piece, Gillespie says Romney’s team in Washington would seek aid from the federal highway bill and new homeland security funds.


Moreover, in 1994, when Romney ran against incumbent Democrat Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate, the Boston Globe reported that Romney accused Kennedy of not bringing enough public works money back to the state compared to how much it paid in for transportation. To be sure, that appears to be less an argument about funds for pet projects than about the overall highway bill funding formula.

After his Senate race loss and before he became governor, Romney headed the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. Five years later, when he made his first run for president, The New York Times wrote that “the federal government’s contributions, thanks to Mr. Romney, were also immense.”

The $342 million in federal dollars paid for things unrelated to the Games, like "$33,000 for an Olympic horse adoption program and $55,000 for the Department of Justice to assess and resolve racial tension in Salt Lake City. More than half of the federal money was spent on security, but the federal government also footed the bill for shuttle buses, drug testing, park-and-ride lots and upgrades to the lighting at Salt Lake City International Airport,” according to the New York Times.

After a week or so of being hammered by Romney for his earmarking past, Santorum began to hit back on Romney’s own history.

“He was very forthright about seeking and supporting earmarks when he was governor of Massachusetts,” Santorum reportedly said Wednesday at an event in Oklahoma. “I’m sure he didn’t have any problem spending his earmarks for programs in Massachusetts, and spending that money as freely as he is. I know he supported the Big Dig, which is probably the single biggest transportation earmark in the history of the country.”

When asked by this reporter about what Santorum claimed, the Romney campaign did not directly respond to Romney’s past support for earmarks, instead targeting Santorum.

“Sen. Santorum is like a shopaholic who wants to blame department stores for his spending obsession,” Ryan Williams, Romney’s spokesman said. “Earmarks were created by Congress, and abuses in the system by individuals like Sen. Santorum are among the reasons why Washington has a spending problem. Gov. Romney supports a permanent ban on earmarks, while Rick Santorum defends business as usual on Capitol Hill.”

Later Wednesday, the Romney campaign put out a news release listing which, in their view, were egregious earmarks that Santorum touted as Pennsylvania’s senator, including $400,000 for “exhibits to highlight bird migration” at the Philadelphia Zoo and $900,000 for “hides and leather research” in Wyndmoor, Montgomery County.


Santorum’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers of Common Sense, which tracks earmark spending, said he’s not surprised that Romney, either as governor or when running the Olympics would look to the federal government for what feels like “free money.”

It “undercuts” Romney’s attack on Santorum, he said, but also noted that it’s different being the one who receives the money versus the one who doles it out.

Santorum was “a decider,” Ellis said. “It’s a little different being the cog in the machine than waiting for what pops out of the machine.”