Monday, December 10, 2007

Hillary Clinton's Trading Of Money From Developers For Bill "Earmarks" Draws LA Times Article' - John McCain Calls It Corrupt

It's about time this matter was given the attention it so needed.

YRACUSE, N.Y. — It's a real estate developer's sugar-plum dream: a mega-shopping mall complete with 10 Broadway-style theaters, an indoor river, a Tuscan village and a 39-story luxury hotel sheathed in green solar panels shaped like giant blades of grass. Plus as much as $1 billion in government-backed financing, thanks in part to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Not everyone thinks the plan, known as Destiny USA and still in the early bulldozer stage, is a good idea. Many on the Syracuse City Council consider its tax breaks a waste of public money. Others fear it could damage the struggling downtown area. Others question whether all its dazzling features will ever be built.

One thing is clear, however: Destiny is a classic example of how New York's junior senator has embraced old-fashioned pork-barrel politics, first to build power in the state, then to extend it nationwide as she becomes a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

And to fuel her rise, Clinton has relied on the controversial funding device known as "earmarking." The earmarks enabled her to win favor with important constituents, many of whom provided financial support for her campaigns.

In the case of Destiny, she teamed up with other New York lawmakers to secure federal backing for the private investment project. And she collected tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the developer and others associated with the project.

Nor does the Syracuse project stand alone. From the beginning of her Senate career, Clinton saw earmarks -- which enable lawmakers to bypass the normal budget process and insert narrowly drafted spending provisions directly into legislation -- as a key to funneling aid to a depressed area and building political power among normally Republican-leaning voters.

Since taking office in 2001, Clinton has delivered $500 million worth of earmarks that have specifically benefited 59 corporations. About 64% of those corporations provided funds to her campaigns through donations made by employees, executives, board members or lobbyists, a review by the Los Angeles Times shows.

All told, Clinton has earmarked more than $2.3 billion in federal appropriations for projects in her state since her election to the Senate, much of it for public works projects funded in conjunction with fellow Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer and others in the New York congressional delegation.

A different scale

Clinton is not the biggest earmarker in Congress; senior congressional leaders and members of the appropriations committees can and do write many more such provisions into the huge spending bills they draft. But Clinton does significantly more earmarking than most others with her relatively low level of seniority.

Clinton's staff said she used the earmark privilege effectively for her constituents and denied any connection between her legislative action and campaign contributions.

Her record stands in contrast with others in the Senate seeking the presidency, particularly John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). McCain, who has long opposed earmarks, does not write them. Obama has used the device, but now declines to earmark funds for private companies; he uses earmarks only to secure funds for government projects such as road building and hospital construction. Other senators seeking the presidency provide earmarks to home-state constituents and collect donations from recipients of the federal largesse. But The Times review found that Clinton does it on a different scale.

For example, in the appropriations bills that have passed the Senate so far this year, Clinton earmarked 216 separate projects for a total of $236.6 million. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) secured $112.8 million; Obama earmarked $90.4 million, and Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) earmarked projects totaling $70.8 million.

Since Clinton arrived in the Senate, she has collected in excess of $1 million from earmark beneficiaries and their associates.

"This pattern shows that Clinton has made aggressive use of the pay-to-play earmark game," said Keith Ashdown, research director for the Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington.

The practice of congressional earmarking has a long history. But in recent years, its use has skyrocketed, and earmarking has emerged at the center of high-profile scandals, including the one that sent former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of Rancho Santa Fe and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, both Republicans, to prison. Those scandals involved earmarks that led to the personal enrichment of lawmakers. There is no evidence of that in Clinton's case.

Because of the scandals, the practice of earmarking has become the subject of a heated debate among politicians, watchdog groups and good-government advocates.

Critics of earmarking object that it remains a relatively closed process that adds billions in spending directives, often over the objection of the president and Cabinet departments.

Democrats made earmark reform a priority when they took over Congress in January. The Senate passed rules making it easier to identify the authors of the once-secretive practice.

Clinton supported those basic reforms, but she and other Democratic senators running for president balked at a proposal by Obama that would have required members to disclose their proposed earmark requests, not just those that were enacted into law.


Obamas and Oprah Wow New Hampshire - Give Access To Bloggers

On top of the rallies in Iowa and South Carolina, Senator Barack Obama and his wife Michelle joined again in New Hampshire, with a crowd estimated at 9,000 people who came out in the snow to hear the trio. But what's equally amazing is the full access give to bloggers and student newspapers to cover the event, a fact pointed out by DailyKos writer JHutson.

I can't remember this much excitement ever in politics and I do believe it will translate into victory for Senator Obama, and a new direction for America.

Oprah Winfrey and Senator Barack Obama Draw 29,000 In South Carolina - NY Times

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It was a staggering sight. Upwards of 29,000 people at a political rally. And the Democratic primary in South Carolina is not until Jan. 26.

The Double O Express — Oprah for Obama — drew what is easily the biggest crowd at a campaign event, for any candidate, so far this season. It may have helped that the day was unseasonably warm, above 70 degrees, and gorgeously sunny. But this size crowd is rare even for a general election in the fall. (JFK drew about 35,000 for a Labor Day rally in 1960; get to work, Caucus readers, and tell us if you know of a bigger campaign rally without an incumbent president.)

This event, which was moved to the University of South Carolina’s football stadium to accommodate the crowd, drew mostly African-Americans and, it seemed, more women than men.

About half of the state’s Democratic primary voters are black, and more than half of them are women. So Oprah Winfrey certainly seems to have reached the intended audience, one who will be pivotal to the primary.

And Ms. Winfrey knew her audience. From the moment she stepped on stage — to Aretha Franklin’s “Think” — she established a connection. Referring to her upbringing in Mississippi and Tennessee, she said: “I know something about growing up in the South and know about what it means to come from the South and be born in 1954.”

She did not spell out that 1954 was the year of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education that desegregated the public schools, but it is a year with resonance in American racial history.

Nor did she explicitly acknowledge that she was addressing a largely black audience about a black candidate. Rather, she spoke, in a somewhat raspy voice, with understood aspiration. “It’s just amazing grace that I get to stand here on this South Carolina stage to talk about the man who’s going to be the next president of the United States,” she said. Mr. Obama, she said, “speaks to the potential inside every one of us.”

Ms. Winfrey noted that some say Mr. Obama should “wait his turn.” But, she said, “I wouldn’t be where I am if I waited on the people who told me it couldn’t be.” The audience erupted with applause.

Her low-key approach to the fact that Mr. Obama is black reflected in his own low-key approach to the issue. This was very different from the much more explicit rallies for Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, African-American candidates for the Democratic nomination in past elections.

Those who saw Ms. Winfrey speak in Iowa on Saturday said that she appeared more comfortable here, even though the venue was a giant stadium that seats 80,000. She made a remark about what Southern humidity can do to a girl’s hair. And when she spoke of “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” there was a knowing response from her listeners.

In perhaps her most overt racial reference, and a diversion from the Iowa script, Ms. Winfrey said here: “Dr. King dreamed the dream. But we don’t have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality.”

While the crowd went wild for her, they were subdued for moments of her 18-minute speech, when she read from a prepared text from behind a lectern. She reflected the awkwardness of delivering the necessary but canned lines and read through them quickly.

The big question remains whether she can transfer her own popularity to Mr. Obama, which may never be known.

Her appearance today coincides with a new McClatchy-MSNBC poll that puts Mr. Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, his chief rival, in a statistical tie in South Carolina. But a rally as large as this, and with its extensive publicity, could prove reassuring to Obama supporters who are worried that a black man cannot win.

For her part, Ms. Winfrey at once downplayed her influence but pointed to the special nature of Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

“People are thinking, is this going to be like my book club?” she said. “I’ve got some sense,” she said, suggesting to the crowd that she was not expecting them to follow her blindly. At the same time, she added: “I know the difference between a book club and this seminal moment in our history.”

Most people here to whom the Caucus spoke said they were already Obama supporters.

Michella Troy, 36, a programmer analyst, said she came for both Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Obama. “He’s making sure that things are being addressed,” she said of Mr. Obama. “He’s focused on the middle class and not on the rich.” Ms. Winfrey, she said, can help motivate people.

Ms. Troy and her friend, Deitra Golson, 39, who works at the post office, said they were both eager to vote for an African-American. “We’re excited about making history,” Ms. Golson said.

Vernelle Heyward, 51, a homemaker who drove from Beaufort, said she was already supporting Mr. Obama, saying “he has our interest at heart.” Like many others, she said she was glad Ms. Winfrey was here for Mr. Obama but she doubted she would influence many votes.

Among white voters, Elizabeth Montgomery, 55, a teacher who drove almost three hours from Pawley’s Island, said she had been a volunteer for Mr. Obama long before Ms. Winfrey announced her endorsement. “He’s the only one who will bring real change, and I trust his judgment,” Ms. Montgomery said, adding that he had won her over with his opposition to the war in Iraq.

And David Clyburn, 75, a retired United Methodist clergyman, said he respected Ms. Winfrey for supporting a senator from her own state, Illinois. “She’s not a hired Hollywood gun,” he said. But he, too, had already made up his mind to support Mr. Obama, and had already persuaded his daughter, Debra Lyles, 49, director of child and family services at a community mental health center, to support him, too.

Among the undecideds was A. Jewell Moore, 61, a project manager for public schools. She said she liked Mrs. Clinton, too, and would have a tough time making up her mind. She said Ms. Winfrey would not influence her decision. But she came today to show her daughter, Savannah, 14, who wants to be a lawyer, that she could be up on a stage like Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Obama some day herself.

Ms. Winfrey, Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, exited the stage to an interesting tune: Stevie Wonder singing “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”