Politics & Government

As a rookie in U.S. Senate, Casey sponsored more than $200 million in earmarks

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey was the top senator in his class in bringing home the bacon in last year's budget.

In his first year in the Senate, Casey was the sole Senate sponsor for almost $32 million to 36 special projects, according to a database from Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group.

Many of the projects have House co-sponsors that Casey simply supported with letters of recommendation.

Casey co-sponsored many more earmarks with other senators, more than $215 million in all, according to the watchdog group.

While many of the earmarks went to municipalities, school districts, universities and nonprofit agencies, millions went to private firms.

Casey also was the sole Senate sponsor for defense projects totaling $14 million. All but one hired lobbyists to help make their case, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The one that didn’t turned around and hired a lobbyist this year.

Casey said the lobbying firms had nothing to do with who he supported for earmarks or how much access anyone received in his office.

“Our door is open,” Casey said.

“We connect with people all the time — people with very little power, people with a lot of power.”

Still, he added, “I understand where there is skepticism among voters, and there should be.”

But Casey defended his earmarking practice, saying that as long as members’ names are attached to their projects, voters can decide for themselves whether members have conflicts of interest.

“I’d rather have people who are elected by the voters make the decision on earmarks as opposed to someone in a bureaucracy,” Casey said.

Here are the recipients of earmarks in the defense bill for which Casey is the sole Senate sponsor:

•EFJ Inc., a Texas company with a manufacturing plant in Indiana, Pa., spent $200,000 last year on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It received a $1 million earmark for a “wireless maritime inspection system.”

•Power & Energy spent $80,000 last year on lobbying. It received $2.4 million for “Pure Hydrogen Supply from Liquid Fuels” for Ivyland.

•Air Products & Chemicals spent more than $1 million in lobbying last year. It received $2 million for a “Polymer Center for Excellence” in Allentown.

•Gentex Corp. spent $160,000 last year on lobbying. It received $2.7 million for helmet display and life-support technologies in Simpson.

•INRange Systems spent more than $60,000 last year on lobbying. It received $1.6 million for a telepharmacy robotic device unit in Altoona.

•Navmar Applied Sciences hired lobbyists in 2001 and 2002, but spent less than $10,000 a year since, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It received $800,000 for a “Deep Extended Echo Ranging” project in Warminster.

One other company, Clear Align, of Eagleville, received $1 million for lasers used by the Navy. According to Senate records, it didn’t use a lobbyist last year.

That has changed. This year, for the next wave of appropriations, Clear Align hired a lobbying firm.

CDT Washington correspondent Barbara Barrett can be reached at 202-383-0012 or bbarrett@mcclatchydc.com.

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