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Utah Congressman Rob Bishop is 'king of earmarks'

95% of his requests are for past donors to his campaigns

Published: Tuesday, April 14 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah National Guardsmen unload a truck from a C-17 on Aug. 9, 2007. Rep. Rob Bishop has requested $4.2 billion to purchase another 15 C-17 cargo planes from Boeing.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Utah's three U.S. House members have completely different philosophies about requesting "earmarks" that order federal agencies to fund specific projects they like.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, requested none for upcoming 2010 appropriations bills, and he campaigned against earmarks. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, requested relatively few (totaling $56 million), and only 3.5 percent were for campaign donors. But Rep. Rob Bishop requested $6.5 billion worth, and 95 percent are for past campaign donors.

He requests so much, in part, because he passes along virtually all requests made to him. "My concept is basically that if an earmark is asked of us, and it appears to be for a legitimate project, we pass it on — because appropriators have to look at it and make that call (on whether it is funded) anyway," Bishop said.

Also, he is on the House Armed Services Committee, so much of what he requests is for defense contractors. Those requests tend to be for very expensive weapons systems — and such contractors also happen to be donors to his campaigns because of his committee role.

Finding such data is easier this year because the House this month began requiring members to post on their Web sites the earmarks they request (senators need not do so yet). That comes after President Barack Obama campaigned against earmarks for inflating spending for sometimes silly projects, although he also requested them as a senator.

Chaffetz also made earmarks a campaign issue that he used to help defeat former Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah. In last year's campaign, Chaffetz said, "Until there's reform, I will not ask for them. They're a cancer in the system, and I want to extract them."

Matheson requested $56.2 million worth of earmarks for 2010, or less than 1 percent of what Bishop did. Most were on behalf of local governments for such things as specific roads, trails or water systems. Only one was on behalf of a campaign donor, L-3 Communications, for $2 million for a driving simulator for soldiers.

Examples of some other earmarks Matheson requested include: $1.6 million to complete construction of the Timpanogos Cave National Monument visitors center; $3.8 million for a navigation system at the St. George Airport; $998,000 for energy-efficient outdoor lights at the Utah Shakespearean Festival; and $1.1 million to help revitalize the Jordan River corridor in Salt Lake County.

"I request funding for projects that have merit for improving public safety, growing the economy and enhancing the quality of life in Utah," Matheson said.

"I am comfortable putting my name alongside all these requests. Whether it is to help expand Uintah County's drug court or to bring city water mains up to current fire codes, I look to local officials for the most critical needs in their communities," he added.

The king of earmarks among Utah's House members is Bishop, whose $6.5 billion in requests was 115 times more than what Matheson made, and 95 percent of it went to campaign donors.

Just two of his requests — both for Boeing — accounted for almost all of the value of his requests: $4.2 billion to buy another 15 C-17 cargo planes, and $1.75 billion for the Global Ballistic Missile Defense system.

"Part of that was we were reacting to rumors that Obama's budget will cut the C-17, which many of us think is a bad idea. That was a multi-member request. I was not the only one requesting it," Bishop said.

He adds that sometimes administrations intentionally cut their defense budgets — to make them appear leaner — knowing that Congress will add back key programs through earmarks. "It's a game that administrations of both parties have played," he said.

He adds that defense contractors come to him with requests for earmarks because he is on the Armed Forces committee, "and because almost all of the military installations in Utah are in my district."

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