in Houston, Texas

Texas stimulus opponents later sought stimulus funds for their districts

Monday, Oct 18, 2010, 06:00AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

At least a dozen Texas lawmakers who voted against the $787 billion stimulus bill later drafted letters to federal agencies asking for stimulus money for projects for their own constituencies.

Stimulus sign

Through federal Freedom of Information Act requests, the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., found hundreds of letters written by U.S. senators and representatives who voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- including Republicans, asking for stimulus funding on behalf of companies, cities, counties and universities.

When asked about the propriety of going after funding from a program they did not support, Texas legislators responded in kind that while they voted with their consciences, when the bill passed they had a responsibility to their constituents.

Critics like Rob Gaudet, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, and Mattie Corrao, the executive director of Americans for Tax Reform’s Center for Fiscal Accountability, told CPI they thought there was no good reason to go after the money.

“The GOP should not be taking this money and spending it regardless of where it came from,” Gaudet said. “They should be fighting against it with every fiber of their elected beings.”

“Politicians just want to keep their jobs,” Corrao adds. “In no way should anyone be buying into the failed [stimulus]. But the case is the money is going somewhere, and people who want to stay elected and see it as political beneficial are going to do it.”

Pete SessionsSESSIONS

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Dallas Republican, drafted at least three letters to the federal Department of Transportation asking for stimulus funding totaling $81 million, according to CPI's research. When reporters questioned him about the solicitation letters, Sessions continued to denounce the bill he voted against. Once passed, Sessions said he had a responsibility to pursue funding for which taxpayers in his district helped pay. (Click here to see Sessions' letters to DOT.)

The “stimulus bill is an abject failure that has cost taxpayers $1 trillion while over 3 million additional Americans lost their jobs," Sessions told CPI. "I voted against this borrow-and-spend policy last year, and I would again today if given the chance. What I have not done is allow my strong, principled objection to the bill to prevent me from asking federal agencies for their full consideration of critical infrastructure and competitive grant projects for North Texas when asked to do so by my constituents.”

At least a dozen Texas other lawmakers wrote similar letters to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy, records showed. The database created by the Center includes hundreds of letters signed by Republicans and Democrats, 70 pages of them signed by dozens of federal and state legislators from Texas asking for millions of dollars to develop the state's broadband network. (Click here to see a complete list of links to the letters.)

Ron PaulPAUL

Spokesmen for the Texas lawmakers who signed the letters, however, told Texas Watchdog these critics forget that everybody paid for the stimulus regardless of who did and didn't vote for it. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute, who routinely votes no on spending bills, is one of seven Texas Congressmen -- three who voted against the stimulus and four who voted for it -- who signed a letter asking the Department of Transportation for funding for the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District.

Rachel Mills, a spokeswoman for Paul, says he considers it a responsibility to return tax dollars to his district where they were earned. “Congressman Paul votes against all appropriations bills but when appropriations are passed, it is the job of Congress and not the administration to decide how appropriated funds are to be spent," Mills said. "Fiscal conservatives should applaud the return of tax dollars to the American people.  Would conservatives rather have those dollars remain in Washington, to be doled out to projects favored by the administration instead?”

Peggy Venable, director of fiscal watchdog Americans For Prosperity in Austin, says she doesn't understand the thinking of the Tea Party and other conservatives who believe stimulus money should be shunned. "If I were talking to Tea Party members I'd tell them, 'You are paying for this and you can't opt out of paying for it,'" Venable said.

"Once the stimulus passed, voters were equally burdened with the cost of paying for it," she said. "It makes good sense, even if you didn't vote for it to roll up your sleeves and go to work making sure those dollars are spent wisely and where they ought to be spent. I have to respectfully disagree with the Tea Party on this one."

By Venable's measure though, the Texans who sought out stimulus money, at least in the letters gathered by CPI, largely failed. Texas Watchdog reviewed each of the letters and found that, in most cases, the projects didn't get the money they wanted.

Sessions sent three letters to DOT, and although his requests totaled $81 million, only one of them -- $23 million for a streetcar program in downtown Dallas -- was granted. The grant was one of just two Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery grants totaling $43 million that came to Texas. That particular stimulus fund distributed $1.5 billion to more than 50 projects in the others states.

Paul and McCaul's freight rail district was one of those TIGER grants that was not approved. Reps. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound; Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth; Ralph Hall, R-Rockwell; Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, and Ted Poe, R-Humble, all of whom voted against the stimulus, also sent letters asking for TIGER stimulus money without success.

One might question the aggressiveness of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's failed attempt to get funding for Albemarle Corp., a biomass research company. The letter begins "Dear Friend," and reads more like a form letter than an impassioned plea for money.

The letter-writing efforts of dozens of federal and state lawmakers in Texas, stimulus friends and foes, impressed the people with the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. It awarded $6.6 million to Texas A&M University and $2 million to the University of Houston for broadband research and gave the state of Texas a piece of $28.6 million to create a 680-mile broadband network of 35 communities in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Click to see the PDFs of some of the letters collected by the Center for Public Integrity:

Letters to the federal Department of Energy

Letters to the federal Transportation Department

Letters to the U.S. Commerce Department by multiple members of Texas' Congressional Delegation

Contact Mark Lisheron at mark@texaswatchdog.org. Follow Texas Watchdog on Twitter at @TexasWatchdog.

Texas Watchdog and the Center for Public Integrity are members of the Investigative News Network, an umbrella group for nonprofit news organizations across the country.

Photo of sign by flickr user Jef Nickerson, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Scott Moe
Monday, 10/18/2010 - 07:30PM

I don't want the Government to take my money or borrow money they cannot repay.

If they do it anyway, I want to get as much of it back in the local economy as possible.

This is not complicated or hypocritical. This article presents a shameless straw-man nonsense argument. Don't look at the program, look at the money, and the money belongs with the people who earned it.

joemet
Wednesday, 10/27/2010 - 10:00AM

I question the reporting on this subject. It seems to me to be an excellent example of playing the hype but ignoring what really should be a understood as common sense.

If I'm a representative and I oppose - even strenuously - the stimulus bill pending in congress, and then vote with a big fat NO, I would be derelict in my responsibilities toward by constituents if I didn't ahead of time start lining up projects that could use funding. After all, the Stimulus Bill might pass, despite my opposition.

I don't see why this is so difficult for some people to understand.

As far as the ribbon cutting ceremonies go, again, if I'm the representative for a district in which a project is getting underway thanks to monies from the just-passed Bill, I likely had a hand in making sure THAT project (and its merit) was placed in front of the committee handing out the money. So, YES, I'd be justified in being there at the ribbon-cutting ceremony because I helped direct the money to that project.

This is one big DUH.

Commentators like Rachel Maddow have gotten a lot a milage from this issue, but it has been predicated on the assumption that her viewers are ignorant. If she's not ignorant of the simple, rational, reality of how representative are required to act in these situations, why would she perpetrate such misleading charges against representatives who, despite their opposition, nevertheless have the obligation to be sure their constituents (tax payers) get their fair share of the stimulus money?

How difficult is this to understand, and why don't so-called "reporters" acknowledge this and inform those in the public who haven't learned this simple civics fact?

Vero
Saturday, 10/30/2010 - 01:52PM

I think the hypocrisy the article is pointing out is that asking for the federal monies recognizes the peoples' needs at the local level and that spending is needed to meet these needs. Politically, you can toe the party line w/o punishiment, be considered "conservative" enough not to be challenged by the Tea Party, and then benefit from local stimulus projects that you can then claim as reasons for why you should be relected (and most of the time the politician is NOT publically attributing the money as stimulus funds because then the political hyprocrisy would be apparent...not to mention potential ammunition for being labled as RINO). It's political CYA w/o moral standards.

I don't think people misunderstand this is political reality; what is being questioned is: if you think a bill is SO wrong for all the economic and moral reasons the Republicans claimed, isn't it just as wrong to partake in using the money? Or not publically advertising more all the ways the stimulus funding has helped in your district if you use it?

Why doesn't it happen? Because in this climate if a Republican says anything positive about Obama's stimulus packages keeping things from getting worse = political death.

joemet
Friday, 11/12/2010 - 08:16PM

Vero said : "....isn't it just as wrong to partake in using the money?"

NO. You have to remember, this is a democracy, and at a national level, a stimulus bill - if it passes - should benefit all or none. Imagine, too, what sort of moral and ethical environment would exist if it were generally accepted practice to deny a district funds when its rep opposed the bill issuing those funds. The party in power could vote itself all sorts of "stimulus," hording the proceeds while constituents represented by minority party representatives were left out. That's not just anti-democratic; it's corrupt through and through. In the end, who would vote NO? Nobody.

No, this whole business of "hypocrisy" does not extend to the constituency's democratic right to a fair share of federally distributed monies.

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