My, Obama, what big ear(marks) you have

-By Michael M. Bates

Senator Barack Obama will reform government. If you don’t believe it, just ask him.

Demonstrating his devotion to transparency in government, he recently endorsed a one-year ban on earmarks, those devilish special provisions that let lawmakers funnel money to pet projects without going through the normal review process. Earmarks permit legislators to sneak in spending that’s often tacked onto unrelated bills at the last minute.

Obama’s commitment to ending earmarks would be more convincing if he hadn’t resorted to them so much since going to Washington. The nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense calculates that Obama secured almost $100 million in pork for Illinois this fiscal year.

Senator Clinton brought home about three times as much bacon to New York. Unlike Obama, however, she’s not made good government a hallmark of her campaign. Doing so would subject her to some very heavy, if you’ll pardon the expression, sniping.

Barack managed to rank in the top third of senators ordering pork. Although he won’t reveal the projects for which he tucked in funding as a state legislator, he has disclosed on his campaign Web site what he’s been up to as a U.S. senator.

His requests make for interesting reading. He tried to get $1 million for a new hospital pavilion at the University of Chicago. Coincidentally, that’s where his wife Michelle works. Also coincidentally, right after he was elected to the Senate she was promoted and given a salary increase from about $122,000 to well over $300,000. Maybe that’s why, at long last, she’s finally proud of America.

The Washington Post noted last month that Obama earmarked $8 million for a defense contract overseen by General Dynamics. Serving on the board of directors of that company is Obama’s Illinois finance chairman, a man who with his wife raised more than $200,000 campaign dollars for Barack. In another happy happenstance, the executive said he’d never discussed his company’s business with Senator Obama and didn’t even realize he’d requested money for the project.

The Post also reported that last year the Illinois senator made more than half a dozen requests for clients of a lobbying and law firm whose partners donated over $38,000 to Obama in the previous two years. That’ll teach those lousy lobbyists against whom Obama rails regularly. According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama even secured $750,000 for an exhibit named after the General Dynamics executive’s grandfather at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Gotta love those Democratic family values.

As troubling as all this may be, many of Obama’s other requested earmarks are problematic as well. Just for fiscal 2008, he’s sought money for many Illinois communities. These include:

$750,000 to replace water towers in Aledo.
$500,000 for the Carpentersville Community Response Team.
More than $1 million to Carthage to expand a hospital.
$12,000,000 to upgrade roads in Channahon.
$3,000,000 for construction of an underpass in Franklin Park.
$1,500,000 to Galesburg for a new water treatment facility.
$2,000,000 to Johnsburg to construct more sewer lines.
$660,000 for new water towers in Long Creek.
$860,000 to Manteno to connect existing and proposed parks.
$1,595,000 for Moline to build River Tech Boulevard Road.
Another $8 million to Moline to “address” traffic congestion.
$3,812,000 for Morrison to construct a railroad overpass.
$2,000,000 for Mount Carroll to reconstruct its water distribution system.
$10,000,000 for Normal to develop “a multimodal transportation center.”

This is only a partial listing and, again, it represents only one year’s worth of earmarks. It doesn’t include some of Mr. Obama’s other excellent ideas such as money to build a theater and a children’s museum in Chicago, $65,000,000 for Chicagoland’s Metra transportation system, and a million for GoGirlGo!, a Chicago-based initiative to encourage young women to participate in sports.

There are many millions more he earmarked for colleges and universities, local charities and hospitals.

Maybe all the beneficiaries of Obama’s taxpayer-funded largesse are incontestably deserving. I don’t know and I doubt if he does either.

What I do know is that all these concerns are local ones and if there is public funding it should come from local sources. Can Obama point to the part of the Constitution that authorizes the federal government to take money from all Americans and subsidize a municipality’s multimodal transportation center? Why should the taxpayers of Montana pay for water towers in Aledo, Illinois? In similar vein, why should Illinoisans help give New York’s American Ballet Theatre $176,000, an earmark made by Hillary Clinton?

William F. Buckley once wrote of liberalism’s fondness for turning “the skies black with criss-crossing dollars.” With those flying bucks comes confusion about who’s paying for what. Washington’s dirty little secret is that the government has no money of its own. All it can distribute are funds taken from taxpayers and then given back, minus a huge brokerage fee for the bureaucracy and usually with strings attached.

Barack’s affinity for earmarks makes obvious that he represents change no more than Hillary. They’re both charlatans, trusting the rubes won’t notice from where Congress’s supposed munificence comes.

(This Michael Bates column appeared in the April 10, 2008 Reporter Newspapers)
Michael M. Bates has written a weekly column of opinion – or nonsense, depending on your viewpoint – since 1985 for the (southwest suburban Chicago) Reporter Newspapers. Additionally, his articles have appeared in the Congressional Record, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Mensa Journal. He has been a guest on Milt Rosenberg’s program on WGN Radio Chicago, the Bruce Elliott show on Baltimore’s WBAL, the Jim Sumpter show on the USA Radio Network and the New Media Journal’s Blog Radio. As a lad, Mike distributed Goldwater campaign literature and since then has steadily moved further to the Right. He is the author of “Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths.” In 2007, he won an Illinois Press Association award for Original Column.

His presence on the web can be viewed at And he can be reached at

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