POLITICS

McCain Voted For Earmark He Rails Against In Ad

09/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

FactCheck.Org reports that John McCain's "Outrageous" ad:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain cites three absurd-sounding examples of pork-barrel spending in a recent ad: a "bridge to nowhere," a study of the DNA of bears and a Woodstock museum.

McCain is known for fighting against earmarks, the other term lawmakers use for funding of pet projects back home. But he appears to have chosen these three because they're easy to mock, not because he had significant involvement in removing them from the budget.

* He never specifically went after the "bridge to nowhere," and he was absent for key votes on its funding.
* While he tried to cut money for several other projects in the same bill, he never proposed cutting the bear study and voted for the final bill containing it.
* He wasn't present for the most important votes on the Woodstock museum, including one on an amendment he co-sponsored to kill the earmark and divert some of the funds.

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The ad goes on to criticize an earmark that provided "$3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana." This is not the first time McCain has poked fun at the bear project. He first mentioned it on the Senate floor, while discussing the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that included funding for the project:

McCain (Senate floor, Feb. 13, 2003): Because these appropriations are never discussed with nonmembers of the Appropriations Committee, one can only imagine and conjure up an idea as to how this might be used. Approach a bear: That bear cub over there claims you are his father, and we need to take your DNA. Approach another bear: Two hikers had their food stolen by a bear, and we think it is you. We have to get the DNA. The DNA doesn't fit, you got to acquit, if I might.

Good laugh lines, maybe, but the United States Geological Service's Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project didn't study DNA for paternity tests or forensics. Rather, it explored a means of estimating Montana's grizzly bear population by analyzing bear fur snagged on barbed wire. The project was funded partly by federal appropriations - about $1 million per year in add-ons to USGS in 2003 through 2005, $400,000 in 2006 and $300,000 in 2007, plus a $1.1 million earmark through the Forest Service in 2004, according to the study's principal researcher, Katherine C. Kendall. Part of that funding was doled out as part of the omnibus appropriations bill McCain discussed in February 2003.

Despite the fun McCain had ridiculing the bear project on the Senate floor, he didn't actually try to remove it from the bill. He did introduce several amendments, including three to reduce funding for projects he considered wasteful or harmful, but none removing the grizzly bear project appropriations. And despite his criticisms, he voted in favor of the final bill.

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