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Wasilla’s All-Purpose Lobbyist

Image has not been found. URL: http://www.washingtonindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/palincloseupcrop-300x200.jpgAlaska Gov. Sarah Palin (Lauren Victoria Burke, wdcpix.com)

The ties that bind Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP vice-presidential nominee, to her state’s infamous “Bridges to Nowhere” just keep getting tighter.

Steven W. Silver, a Washington lobbyist who began representing the small town of Wasilla during Palin’s tenure as mayor, is also lobbying for construction of a controversial bridge linking Anchorage to the borough housing Wasilla, according to lobbying disclosure records.

That proposed span — dubbed “Don Young’s Way” after Alaska’s lone House member — gained notoriety in 2005, when Young and Sen. Ted Stevens (R) fought to earmark hundreds of millions of federal dollars for it and another controversial bridge connecting Ketchikan, Alaska (pop. 7,300), to an island airport. Both became symbols of wasteful federal spending, and were widely ridiculed as “Bridges to Nowhere.”

Palin, the recent surprise pick as Sen. John McCain’s running mate, has forged the image of a reformer dedicated to reining in federal spending. While she originally supported the federal money for the bridges, she has been touting her more-recent opposition to the Ketchikan earmark as evidence that she’s a business-as-unusual politician — a message that’s evolved into a prominent campaign issue this year.

Image has not been found. URL: http://www.washingtonindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/politics.jpgIllustration by: Matt Mahurin

On Wednesday, Palin told the GOP faithful gathered in Minneapolis for the Republican National Convention, “I told the Congress ‘thanks but no thanks’ for that ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’ If our state wanted a bridge, we’d build it ourselves.”

She was talking about the Ketchikan span.

But she hasn’t come out against “Don Young’s Way.” In fact, the Palin administration has plans to hire an outside contractor to estimate what the project would cost, according to a June report from The Anchorage Daily News. The contractor alone is expected to run the state $200,000, the report said. The bridge itself has been tagged at between $450 million and $1.5 billion.

The Daily News reported:

The agency charged with coming up with a bridge plan — the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority — recently estimated the span would cost $667 million if construction begins next year. The authority, which made the estimate in response to a request from the governor’s office, said that figure could increase to $824 million by 2015.

[…]

Randy Ruaro, a special assistant to Gov. Sarah Palin, said the administration, even in the face of the recent lengthy report from the bridge authority, was having trouble getting an accurate picture of everything that is involved in the project, of the timing of the phases, and of the costs. He said the independent estimate is expected to answer those questions.

With Palin remaining receptive to “Don Young’s Way,” Sen Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, has seen an opening. Thursday his office pounced, sending an email blast to reporters proclaiming, “Palin only announced opposition to one ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’ still supports the other one.”

Silver, the former chief of staff to the now-indicted Stevens, began lobbying Congress on behalf of Wasilla in 2000. With Silver’s help, the town secured nearly $27 million in federal earmarks while Palin was mayor, according to an analysis done by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog group.

Beginning in the middle of 2004, Silver has also represented the Knik Arm Bridge & Toll Authority, created in 2003 to facilitate the bridge construction. The contract has proved a handsome one. Since that date, Silver’s firm — Robertson, Monagle & Eastbaugh — has taken in roughly $200,000 from the Knik Arm group.

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