UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington under nine presidents and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 14, 2009

LAHOOD STEERED $9 MILLION TO CAMPAIGN DONORS

Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post - The former Republican congressman chosen by President-elect Barack Obama to direct billions in federal highway spending has been an unapologetic advocate of earmarks, a practice Obama now opposes, and has used his influence to win funding for projects pushed by some of his largest campaign contributors.

Ray LaHood, who represented Illinois in the House for seven terms, sponsored $60 million in earmarks last year, steering at least $9 million in federal money to campaign donors, a Washington Post analysis shows. An opponent of earmark reform efforts in Congress, LaHood ranks roughly among the top 10 percent in the House for sponsoring earmarks in 2008, according to a watchdog group. . .

Government watchdog groups say LaHood's selection does not bode well for Obama's pledge to return transparency to government spending. Earmarks are often last-minute insertions in federal spending bills and are not subject to normal reviews.

LaHood also has been criticized for his ties to a longtime Republican state kingmaker in Illinois, William F. Cellini Sr., who was indicted in the "pay-to-play" criminal investigation underway by the office of Northern District U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Cellini has denied wrongdoing.

"This guy has history of pork barrel spending and lot of a questionable spending linked to his friends. He's going to be in charge of funneling hundreds of billions of dollars into local projects . . . and he's not going to be suddenly changing his stripes tomorrow," said Leslie Paige of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.

LaHood's biggest campaign donor is Peoria's largest corporation: Caterpillar. The company and its workers have donated more than $190,000 to LaHood since 1998, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Last year, LaHood secured $7.8 million to help the company and its offshoots develop technologies for potential future military contracts.

Last year, he also pushed for $333,000 to construct the new Lakeview Museum in Peoria, part of a project that will include a Caterpillar-financed museum focused on the company's history.

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