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Earmark Season Starting Anew

Correction Appended

Facing federal corruption investigations and what may be the most difficult re-election fight of his long career, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has released videos defending his use of earmarks to divert millions in federal funding to his state.

The videos come as lawmakers begin preparing for the annual appropriations process and as the Senate Appropriations subcommittee chairmen have begun soliciting earmark proposals from their colleagues.

Stevens — who last week formally launched his re-election bid — posted a three-part video on his Senate Web site earlier this month. In the videos, Stevens argues that because of the state’s remote location, sparse population and wide swaths of federal lands, earmarks are essential to Alaska’s economic development. He also argues that “most earmarks do not increase spending at all” and are simply a reprogramming of federal funds to needs that have been identified by state and local officials.

The video also features testimonials to the virtues of earmarks by Stevens, Cook Inlet Tribal Council President and CEO Gloria O’Neill, University of Alaska Director of Federal Relations Martha Stewart and Barrow Arctic Science Consortium Board President Richard Glenn. All three of their organizations have received significant earmarks in recent years, and Cook Inlet Regional Inc., a subsidiary of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, has become one of the largest federal contractors in the world during Stevens’ tenure in the Senate, with offices across the country.

Titled “What Are Earmarks,” the 25-minute video uses examples of earmarks Stevens has authored over the years to prove that earmarks are not wasteful spending and are necessary for Alaska’s well-being. For instance, O’Neill and Glenn point to the Denali Commission and other earmarks that have increased access to remote areas. “Many parts of the infrastructure of rural Alaska have been strengthened by the Denali Commission,” Glenn notes in the video.

Likewise, O’Neill and Stewart highlight education, rural health care and job creation projects that have been funded by earmarks. One key benefit of the earmarks, according to O’Neill, is that they allow the tribe and other local governments to build programs that can eventually be used to compete for federal program dollars. Stevens’ earmarks have “allowed us to leverage other federal dollars,” O’Neill said.

Stewart also highlights research programs that have been undertaken by the university using earmarked dollars, including projects that have benefited the military and commercial aviation, and praises Stevens’ ability to bring funds home. “The university has been very well taken care of by the Senator ... he’s been very generous, very kind and very deft in working the federal process for us,” Stewart said.

Stevens makes passing mention of the “Ferry to Nowhere” project that would use a high-speed ferry across the Knik Arm to connect a remote area to Anchorage, using it as an example of how he has followed new transparency rules.

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