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Detailing Earmark Heaven

In the wake of an admission by the top aide to then-House Appropriations cardinal Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) of exchanging earmarks for concert tickets and free meals, an analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense found that clients of a Jack Abramoff associate received more than $16 million in earmarks in the fiscal 2004 transportation spending bill.

In a plea agreement submitted Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, former Congressional staffer John Albaugh, 41, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and admitted to arranging numerous earmarks for clients of “Lobbyist C,” who is not identified but is believed to be Kevin Ring, formerly a lobbyist at the D.C.-based firm Greenberg Traurig.

Although the plea agreement details instances in which Albaugh, Istook — then the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies — and Ring “discussed” procuring federal funds, the projects are not identified in the document.

But according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, six of Ring’s clients received earmarks, at a combined value of more than $16 million, in the fiscal 2004 transportation spending bill, which was passed as part of an omnibus package.

“This case demonstrates the nature of corruption in the earmarking process,” Taxpayers for Common Sense President Ryan Alexander said in a statement. “We cannot continue with a broken system where we only discover corruption though criminal investigation.”

The earmarks identified by Taxpayers for Common Sense include funds for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Colorado Railcar Manufacturing, Elk Grove, Calif., Lincoln, Calif. — a city in the district of Rep. John Doolittle (R), whom Ring once worked for as a House aide — the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Carter County, Mont.

Among those recipients, five of the six listed no representation other than Greenberg Traurig during 2003. The sixth, the Choctaw Mississippi Band, contracted with multiple lobbyists, but according to lobby reports hired only Greenberg Traurig to pursue appropriations for the tribe.

According to the plea agreement, Albaugh acknowledged in mid-July 2003 that he “agreed to ensure that clients of Lobbyist C or Firm B received more than $4 million in a subcommittee draft of the transportation appropriations bill.”

In subsequent e-mails in November, Albaugh detailed that at least four of Ring’s clients would receive amounts ranging from $1 million to $1.4 million in the appropriations bill, adding, “Whos [sic] the man!”

In its analysis, Taxpayers for Common Sense found that the Choctaw Mississippi Band received $1.4 million for a Choctaw Roads project; the city of Elk Grove received two earmarks, $300,000 for the Sheldon Road-State Route 99 interchange and another $960,000 for a “traffic operations center”; the city of Lincoln received four earmarks, $500,000 for expansion of regional buses, $1 million for the Lincoln Boulevard Improvement Project, $2 million for the Lincoln bypass-State Route 65 Ferrari Interchange construction and $250,000 for the Auburn Ravine Bridge.

In addition, the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe received $1.2 million for its “transportation improvement project.”

Taxpayers for Common Sense also lists $1 million for the Saginaw Transit Multimodal Downtown Transit Facility, but notes that those funds are “less clear but may also be at the request of the Tribe.”

Colorado Railcar Manufacturing also received $5 million in the spending bill, according to the taxpayers group, to “study the use of diesel multiple units.”

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