WASHINGTON -- In late September 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's office notified Rep. Paul Ryan's office with some good news. The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs had awarded a grant to a Wisconsin veteran's home to help renovate its water distribution system. Walker's office just needed Ryan's people to sign off on the press release. But what started out as a routine matter quickly turned into a minor panic among aides to the two Republicans.
Wendy Riemann, Walker's director of federal relations, sent an email to Ryan's communications director, Kevin Seifert, asking for a quote from the congressman.
"Not sure if you're doing your own release, etc.," Riemann emailed on Sept. 26. "Let me know -- we'll wait to hear from you either way before putting it out."
Seifert replied with a simple message: Stop the presses. He had one concern. Could the grant be tied to federal stimulus funds?
"Not to create more work for you all but -- do you have any idea where the money for this grant came from? Was it from the stimulus/the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?" Seifert wrote. "Our concern is that if it's stimulus funds, we won't want to highlight (and would think you guys wouldn't either)."
Seifert did not want Ryan appearing to support President Barack Obama. "The Administration is encouraging lots of agencies to spend un-spent stimulus funds and we generally won't do press on things we actively oppose," the congressman's communications director concluded.
The emails were obtained by The Huffington Post through a public records request with Walker's office. The email exchange underscored a routine problem facing Republicans in the House of Representatives at the time. Having opposed the president's stimulus bill publicly, many (including some of the foremost conservatives) privately concluded that the legislation did some good in their districts. But rather than back off their opposition, or risk charges of hypocrisy -- even for something as mundane and worthy as a veteran's home water system upgrade -- they did what they could to secure money without public notice.
Seifert's worry in September 2011 was prescient.
During the recent vice presidential debate, Vice President Joe Biden chided Ryan for asking for stimulus funds. Ryan had sought stimulus funds for four projects, including two involving Environmental Protection Agency funds.
The congressman routinely sought grant money for projects in Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District, which encompasses his hometown of Janesville. He sought EPA grant money for environmental studies of potentially hazardous industrial lands, and for clean diesel fuel assistance for a school association.
Ryan's spokesman Brendan Buck told HuffPost several weeks ago that the requests amounted to basic constituent services. "Part of being a congressman is vouching for constituents and helping them navigate the federal bureaucracy when asked," Buck said.
Ryan received a $735,000 earmark to construct a bus transit center in Janesville while slamming the practice. In 2008, he sought a moratorium on earmark spending.
The next day, after researching the veteran's home grant, Riemann, in Walker's office, emailed Seifert, Ryan's communications director, with what she discovered. The grant came from federal funds from an annual appropriation -- not the stimulus bill. But there was one potential caveat. "My Google shows there was an audit for this work with recovery funds ... but it also looks like this grant program has been around for awhile," she wrote.
Too risky, Seifert suggested. "Feel free to proceed without us on this one," he said. "Thanks for checking."