Candidate attacks on earmarks and wasteful government spending are standard election year fodder. Opponents often accuse incumbents of loading up on pet pork projects with taxpayer dollars.
A recent example is an Oct. 21 press release sent by the Republican Party of Minnesota regarding DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s spending record:
“Since she took office, Sen. Klobuchar has grazed at every opportunity at the federal funding buffet heaping her plate with tasty treats like $6 million for a snowmaking machine in Duluth and $1.2 million to build a bike trail to Target Field. In all she’s supported over $1 trillion (with a “t”) in stimulus spending.”
“It was bad enough that past stimulus bills included things like bike trails and snowmaking facilities,” GOP Chair Tony Sutton goes on to say.
There’s a bit of truth to this claim. But it’s been distorted to the point of making it false.
The Minnesota GOP contends that Klobuchar has supported more than $1 trillion in stimulus spending. That includes the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which, at the time, was worth $700 billion; $25 billion in federal loans to the auto industry passed in 2008 (Detroit ultimately got most of its assistance from TARP); a $400 billion bailout for home finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and the $787 stimulus bill, according to Minnesota GOP spokeswoman Heather Rubash.
Whether these separate measures constitute wasteful government spending is a matter of opinion. But it’s clear that they total far more than $1 trillion. And because all were meant to either create jobs, prevent people from losing their jobs, or prop up the economy, for this fact-check, we’re taking a broad view of what “stimulus” means.
It’s true that Klobuchar voted for all four bills, as did many other Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.
But from there, the GOP’s statement gets off track.
Both the snowmaking machine and the bike trail are associated with the $787 stimulus bill passed in early 2009, said Rubash, who pointed to information from the National Republican Senatorial Committee for sourcing.
The stimulus bill did not include earmarks, which are pots of funding meant for specific pet projects in lawmakers’ districts (though critics argue that some of the stimulus funding was specific enough, such as dollars to buy green vehicles, to be considered earmark-like).
It’s true that Hennepin County got about $1.2 million in stimulus dollars to extend an existing bike trail to Target Field in downtown Minneapolis.
But, unlike the GOP’s claim implies, Klobuchar did not request the money for the specific project. Rather, the state got a share of a $1.5 billion pot of stimulus money meant to fund transportation projects nationwide. In turn, Hennepin County applied to the state for bike trail funding, says Phil Eckhert, who is the county’s director of Housing, Community Work and Transit. Ultimately, the project came in under budget at roughly $695,000, so the extra cash went back to the state, he said.
So, aside from the “aye” vote she cast in favor of the bill, Klobuchar had no control over specific projects supported by the stimulus bill.
Cash for a snowmaking machine wasn’t in the stimulus bill, either. In fact, no stimulus cash was ever spent on such a project.
The media began buzzing about the snowmaking machine in December 2008 when mayors from across the nation compiled a report to show the incoming Obama administration what sorts of projects could be funded with stimulus dollars. That was before Obama was sworn into office and before lawmakers returned to Congress to draft the stimulus bill.
Included in that report was a snowmaking machine for Spirit Mountain, which is an authority of the City of Duluth. It was estimated to cost $6 million and create 70 jobs.
But once the stimulus was passed and federal dollars were available, no request for such funding was made, according to Renee Mattson who is executive director for the ski area.
There is a shred of truth in this claim: Klobuchar supported four big spending bills, including the stimulus package.
But the Minnesota GOP implies that Klobuchar was finagling cash for wasteful projects back home. The bike trail funding was not an earmark, nor did Klobuchar have a say in how that money was spent. And the snowmaking machine stalled before it even started.
On the whole, the claim is misleading to the point of being false.
The Republican Party of Minnesota, Sen. Klobuchar Sells Snow to Duluth and her Soul to the Unions, Oct. 21, 2011
The Senate, Roll Call vote for H.R.3221, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, accessed Nov. 9, 2011
The Senate, Roll Call Vote for H.R.2638: Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009, accessed Nov. 9, 2011
The Senate, Roll Call Vote for H.R. 1424, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, accessed Nov. 9, 2011
The Senate, Roll Call Vote for H.R. 1: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, accessed Nov. 9, 2011
U.S. News and World Report, A $25 Billion Lifeline for GM, Ford, and Chrysler, by Rick Newman, September 24, 2008
CNN, There goes another $30 billion, by David Goldman, June 1, 2009
Propublica, History of U.S. Government Bailouts, April 15, 2009
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, accessed Nov. 9, 2011
The United States Conference of Mayors, Ready to Go: Jobs and Infrastructure Projects, Dec. 8, 2008
U.S. News and World Report, Finding the Pork in the Obama Stimulus Bill: Is Obama’s stimulus overflowing with special-interest projects?, By Matthew Bandyk, Feb. 19, 2009
Interview, Phil Eckhert, Director Housing, Community Works and Transit, Hennepin County, Nov. 8, 2011
Interview, Renee Mattson, Executive Director of Spirit Mountain, Nov. 2, 2011
Email exchange, Heather Rubash, spokeswoman, Minnesota GOP, Nov. 2, 2011