The Pork Barrel Champion
By Fred Lucas
CNSNews.com | 1/25/2008
A group that lobbies for needle exchanges, for allowing more immigrants with HIV/AIDS to legally enter the country, and for condom distribution in prisons received a $303,000 federal earmark pushed by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
That was one of 261 earmarks Clinton personally helped usher through Congress. That’s more earmarks than any other member of Congress seeking the presidency, according to an analysis by the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW).
This specific appropriation is from the Department of Justice and is aimed at fighting methamphetamine use – that’s what the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center is supposed to do with the taxpayer-funded money.
Clinton announced the grant in October 2007, a month after receiving a $750 donation and a $250 donation from Felix Lopez, an attorney for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and for a clinic based in New York.
A number of other non-profit organizations in New York state that received Clinton earmarks also had employees who contributed to her presidential campaign or political action committee, HillPAC.
Felix Lopez could not be reached for comment this week.
The funding for the earmarks came through the $555 billion FY 2008 omnibus bill, which included nearly 1,000 earmarks. Clinton’s 261 earmarks were more than twice as many as any other member of Congress seeking the presidency, the CAGW analysis showed.
Under ethics reform legislation passed last year, 2008 is the first year that members of Congress have to put their names on earmarks.
In announcing the earmark to the homosexual group last October, Clinton said: “The Gay Men’s Health Clinic is providing a critical service in working to halt the devastation that methamphetamine brings to our community. With HIV/AIDS rates among meth users more than twice as high as the general public, these funds are essential in helping the Gay Men’s Health Clinic continue the fight against HIV/AIDS through treatment and prevention.”
The Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center, based in New York City, has a public policy agenda for the federal, state, and city level that includes a needle exchange program to curb the spread of HIV, allowing non-profit groups to distribute condoms for free throughout prisons, and opposition to abstinence-only sex education.
The group says its top legislative agenda item at the federal level involves changing immigration policy to eliminate HIV/AIDS as grounds for inadmissibility as a disease of public health significance.
In a survey of presidential candidates by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Clinton provided a “mixed position” on the issue of repealing the HIV entry ban. Her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, supports the repeal.
Both support needle exchange programs and the distribution of free condoms in prisons, and they oppose abstinence-only sex education.
The group scored Clinton at 92 percent and Obama at 89 percent. Only Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) beat Clinton with a 100 percent rating, the survey reported.
Krishna Stone, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis assistant director of community relations, declined to comment on Clinton’s earmark for the group and only said that the group does not endorse candidates and employees are free to contribute to whomever they like.
Stone also referred to a Dec. 28, 2007, news release from the organization praising the omnibus bill for its funding for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).
“We are deeply grateful to Senators Schumer and Clinton for their hard work to ensure this appropriations bill passed,” said Dr. Marjorie J. Hill, the GMHC’s chief executive officer, in the release. “Their leadership in addressing the rising rates of crystal meth use will help us prevent further HIV/AIDS infections.”
But her comments were followed by Sean Cahill, managing director of public policy for the group, who said, “We’re disappointed that this omnibus bill still contains millions for harmful and ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage education and still contains the restriction banning the use of federal funds for syringe exchange.”
‘What kind of president would you be?’
Most of the 261 earmarks with Clinton’s name on them went to New York counties and municipalities, universities and colleges, and charitable organizations.
For the candidates still in the primary race, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) had 46 earmarks, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) had 10 earmarks, Kucinich had 9 earmarks and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had no earmarks, according to the CAGW. McCain has campaigned on having no earmarks during his time in Congress, and he has pledged to eliminate them if elected president.
The obvious flaw in comparing earmarks by the candidates is that former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, or other candidates who didn’t serve in Congress last year, can’t be ranked, said David Williams, vice president of policy at CAGW.
“This analysis is supposed to ask: What kind of president would you be if you had 261 earmarks?” Williams told Cybercast News Service. “Would you be more likely or less likely to issue an executive order eliminating earmarks?”
Earmarks and campaign cash
Most of Clinton’s earmarks included organizations that did not have employees who donated to her campaign. But many cases were notable. Most organizations did not respond to requests for comment.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to questions on the earmarks. But her Senate office provided a statement in response to questions by Cybercast News Service. The response did not address questions about any individual earmarks or questions concerning potential connections to campaign contributions.
“Sen. Clinton is very proud to have helped New York-based projects that train nurses, improve our hospitals, help those suffering from 9/11-related health ailments, bolster national and homeland security, and provide our brave men and women in uniform with the resources they need to achieve the mission while keeping them safe,” said Clinton’s press secretary, Philippe Reines, in a written statement to Cybercast News Service.
Faculty and administrators at the New School, a university in New York – which received more than $2.9 million in earmarks with Clinton’s name on them – gave a total of $5,100 to her campaign last year. New School President Bob Kerry is a vocal Clinton supporter.
Mitchell Rosenthall, listed as president of Phoenix House, a drug rehab center with an office in New York, gave Clinton’s campaign $800 through donations in August and September. The omnibus bill approved by the Senate in October included a $601,000 earmark with Clinton’s name on it for the Phoenix House.
In addition, Reynold Levy, president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, contributed $3,200 to Clinton last February. Clinton’s name was on two earmarks worth a total of $890,000 for the Lincoln Center.
“I spoke with Reynold Levy, and he said there was no connection between the individual campaign contributions and earmarks,” Lincoln Center Vice President of Public Relations Betsy Voice told Cybercast News Service in a written statement.
Numerous other private non-profit groups with Clinton earmarks had employees that gave less than $1,000, while other organizations had a significant number of employees that gave to Clinton in previous election cycles.
The relationship between earmarks and campaign contributors is all too common throughout Congress and can’t be pinned on one member, said CAGW’s David Williams.
“This not only casts a perception, but there are people in jail for this,” Williams said, referencing politicians who were proven to have granted earmarks in exchange for campaign contributions or bribes. “If you’re a member of Congress, this is not the way you should do it. Any federal funding should go through a competitive grant process.”
Fred Lucas is the political reporter for The News-Times in Danbury, CT. He has written for The Washington Times, Stateline.org, Human Events, Bloomberg News, and The State Journal of Frankfort, KY.