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The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

McCain Camp Mum on 1991 Earmark

Daniel James
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Sep 18, 2008

I’ve been trying to get somebody at the McCain campaign press office to comment on the 1991 Arizona Republic articles that appear to contradict Sen. John McCain’s frequent assertion that he has “never requested a single earmark or pork-barrel” item for his home state in his entire career.

According to the articles, McCain wrote a letter to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, then chairman of a Senate appropriations subcommittee for transportation, requesting $5.5 million for a road, known as “The Turquoise Trail,” on the Hopi Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona. Lautenberg secured $4.7 million, according to the article, through actions “outside the normal legislative process.”

If this is an accurate description of what happened, this would clearly meet any reasonable definition of an earmark.

Perhaps not surprisingly, nobody from the press office has returned my repeated calls since yesterday morning, before we ran the piece. I also tried McCain’s Senate office, but to no avail.

However, I did find a timeline accompanying another Arizona Republic story, from earlier this year, that makes a brief reference to the letter.

1991: McCain’s crusade against pork-barrel spending hits a bump after it is revealed McCain wrote a letter in July 1990 to the chairman of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee seeking money for an Arizona road called the Turquoise Trail.

A 2000 article from The New York Times briefly mentions a $3 million appropriation for the road, lumped in with some other projects McCain has requested over the years.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, and a number of Republicans who have been criticized by Mr. McCain said he had also advanced his own wasteful projects in Arizona, including a $56 million authorization for an environmental and habitat restoration project along the Salt River, $4.2 million to create a national mediation center in Tucson, and $3 million for the Turquoise Trail, a joint effort of the Navajo and Hopi tribes.

Mr. McCain and his aides said those projects were not pork barrel because hearings were held over their merits, in contrast to spending programs that are inconspicuously tucked into legislation without ever being exposed.

It’s unclear if The Times is referring to the same item. But the earlier articles from The Republic clearly dispute that the 1991 appropriation was subject to a hearing.

We’ve enlisted some outside expertise to see if we can figure this out once and for all, and we’ll let you know what we turn up. In the meantime, it was quite coincidental yesterday that [Politifact](. It's unclear if these articles refer to the same item.), the fact-checking operation from The St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, ruled McCain’s statements on his earmark record as “false.”

He’s got a very consistent record of opposing earmarks, to be sure — but as Politifact says, it isn’t perfect.

Daniel James | Daniel James is an author, keynote speaker, and entrepreneur who is a professional coach and gerontologist. Daniel holds a bachelor's degree from Georgia Tech, a master's degree from UCLA, a diploma in gerontology from the University of Boston, as well as a Professional Coaching Certification.


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