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LaHood's Successor on Earmark News: So What?

By Ed O'Keefe

Former Illinois Republican congressman and Transportation Secretary-designate Ray LaHood sponsored $60 million in earmarks last year, steering at least $9 million in federal money to campaign donors, according to a report in today's Post.

Aaron SchockRep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., following the House freshman class photo. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

"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," reports The Eye's Federal government beat colleague Carol D. Leonnig, who also notes that LaHood is an "unapologetic advocate of earmarks."

The lawmaker received hundreds of thousands of dollars from one of his district's largest employers, Caterpillar and from several local road-building companies. Such connections tie LaHood to Illinois Republican kingmaker 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," notes Leonnig's report. "Cellini has denied wrongdoing."

Earlier today The Eye had a chance to speak with LaHood's 18th Congressional successor, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who's an equally unapologetic advocate of the earmarking process.

"The role of a Congressman is to be an advocate for the district, whether it be through legislation, whether it be through constituent work or through getting their share of funding," Schock said.

"The reality is, in this environment, under McCain-Feingold, no one individual can give you more than $2,300. In my opinion, you'd have to be a pretty desperate individual to sell your soul for $2,300," said Schock, later noting that "When you add up $2,300 figures over the course of his term in Congress, which was 14 years, it sounds like, oh gee, it somebody gave him $20,000. Well yeah, it was spread over 10 years."

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation was passed and signed in 2002, seven years into LaHood's congressional tenure, but Schock has a point: Every member of Congress has to deliver for his or her congressional district and they often receive campaign contributions from people and organizations that inevitably benefit from their work.

"I had to raise and spend $2.5 million. I have over 4,000 donors," Schock said. "If I'm any bit of a good congressman over the term of my office, I can assure some of those 4,000 individuals that donated to my campaign are going to benefit and service in some way."

So while the news on LaHood may raise Eyebrows and inspire criticism from good government groups, there's no reason to believe his legislative career will jeopardize his all-but-certain confirmation as the next transportation secretary.

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 14, 2009; 2:20 PM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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