Despite scrutiny from investigators representing at least five federal departments and agencies, a midsummer raid of his home by law enforcement officials and a home-state governor increasingly hostile to earmarks, GOP Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska is showing no signs of abandoning earmarks and directed spending, netting interests in the state more than $88 million in this year’s omnibus, according to a review by Roll Call.
That total includes nearly $3.5 million for the Alaska Sealife Center — which is being investigated by the FBI, Department of Interior and the Internal Revenue Service as part of their inquiry into Stevens — as well as millions of dollars for berry research, “alternative salmon products” and other programs benefiting Alaska businesses with ties to the lawmaker.
The House was expected at press time to pass the massive omnibus appropriations bill and ship it to the Senate for consideration this week.
According to a preliminary review of the bill, Stevens is listed as inserting 17 earmarks into the bill, worth more than $25 million. The earmarks would cover a variety of projects, including $824,000 for alternative salmon products, $975,000 for berry research, $332,000 for “new crop opportunities,” $133,000 for native plant commercialization, $700,000 for the Mountain View revitalization project in Anchorage and $7.5 million for the Denali Commission to undertake transportation infrastructure projects in the state.
The bill also includes a series of spending requirements in its report language directing the National Marine Fisheries Service to spend some $62.9 million to wildlife and fishing industry projects long championed by Stevens, including the $3.478 million for the Sealife Center, $58.5 million for Pacific salmon management and $235,000 for the SE Seiners Capacity Reduction Program.
Stevens’ aggressive use of earmarks to fund projects and industries close to him, his son, Ben, and former aides like Trevor McCabe has come under federal investigation this year. Both he and his son have been raided by the FBI, and have had their relationships with the fishing industry as well as with former VECO CEO Bill Allen — who pleaded guilty to corruption charges involving state officials this spring — investigated. Ben Stevens and McCabe both worked for the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, a nonprofit created by the elder Stevens that also has come under investigation. AFMB dolled out more than $30 million in federal funds earmarked by Stevens over the past several years for a variety of projects, including a dog treat company owned by another former Stevens aide.
Interior and the FBI also are investigating connections between the Sealife Center, Stevens and McCabe, according to federal officials, and numerous fishing industry executives and lobbyists have been served subpoenas over the past year.
Although Stevens’ fervor for the earmarking process does not seem to have subsided despite the increased scrutiny, state officials have cooled to the idea. Earlier this year Karen Rehfeld, GOP Gov. Sarah Palin’s budget chief, issued a memorandum to state agencies directing them to reduce the number of earmark requests they made to their Congressional delegation. Rehfeld argued in the memo that belt-tightening on earmarks was needed to “enhance the state’s credibility” and is seen as part of Palin’s broader effort to weed out corruption and waste in a state government that has been rocked by a series of high-profile convictions of former state lawmakers.
Indeed, even national Republicans have begun to sour to the excesses of earmarking. President Bush has been harshly critical of the number of earmarks included in this year’s appropriations measures and conservative lawmakers in the House and Senate have seen some success in lampooning some earmarks — like Stevens’ famous “Bridges to Nowhere” earmarks and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) Woodstock Museum — to shame their fellow legislators into eliminating some.
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