In his fight to regain his U.S. Senate seat, Republican George Allen has withstood attacks from both his chief Democratic rival, Tim Kaine, and from a handful of Tea Party-backed opponents about his spending habits when he first held the job.
The most persistent criticism of Allen is that he voted for 40,000 earmarks -- funds designated for local projects attached to appropriation bills -- while in office, an accurate but, some say, misleading charge that originated from another GOP candidate for the seat, Jamie Radtke. Allen has repeatedly defended his record by supporting Congress' current ban on earmarks and calling for a balanced-budget amendment.
But while in office from 2001 to 2007, Allen was a frequent user of the earmark system, taking credit for millions of dollars set aside for infrastructure projects, public safety, civic centers and research for universities in Virginia communities during his six-year term, according to a review by The Washington Examiner of news releases on Allen's official Senate website.
|A sample of Sen. George Allen's earmarks|
|- $1.5 million for An Achievable Dream, a Newport News program for at-risk kids|
|- $3 million for parking improvements for the Virginia Rail Express|
|- $2 million for the Center for Criminal Justice Technology in Northern Virginia, a research facility that helps police|
|- $850,000 for counseling at the Women's Health Center in Vienna|
|- $200,000 for the Staunton Cultural Development Project|
Allen's campaign declined to comment on the individual earmarks he championed.
"There wasn't a ban in place back then," said Dan Allen, a spokesman for the Allen campaign. "He is for a ban now."
The assertion that Allen voted for 40,000 earmarks is based on appropriation bills that sometimes contained hundreds of pet projects for lawmakers looking to bring money back to their districts, and each earmark doesn't receive an up-and-down vote. Leslie Page of Citizens Against Government Waste, a spending watchdog group that tracks earmarks, said it was unfair to attack Allen for every earmark that passed.
"That argument is bogus, and we've always said that," Paige said. "You cannot hold this vote against people. It's the lazy man's way of slamming people on earmarks."
Until 2007, lawmakers could submit earmarks anonymously, so none of Allen's earmarks have his name on them. According to the group's database of earmarks, Virginia's 13-member congressional delegation secured more than 1,000 earmarks totaling upward of $1 billion during Allen's term, but there's no disclosure of who initiated them.
By as early as November of his first term, Allen sent out press releases lauding money won for Virginia in an appropriations bill that brought $178.7 million to Virginia, including $1.5 million for a Newport News program that helps at-risk kids and $2 million for the Center for Criminal Justice Technology in Northern Virginia, a research facility.
"I'm grateful that the House and Senate have included such substantial funding for important Virginia projects," Allen said in the release. "This bill contains funds that will help make Virginia a safer place to live, learn, work and raise a family."
A 2004 release highlighted the approval of projects in Northern Virginia, including $3 million for parking improvements off the Virginia Railway Express and $850,000 for counseling at the Women's Center in Vienna.
Radtke said Allen should have stood up against the earmark process instead of chastising it after leaving office.
"What's clear is when he was in the U.S. Senate he played the game," she said. "He played it with the best of them, and he didn't stand up as a leader and fight against all the spending that was going on."