When Romney Loved Earmarks

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 16 2010 11:24 AM

When Romney Loved Earmarks

A friend points out that Mitt Romney's passion for locking arms with Jim DeMint on banning earmarks is fairly new for him. From a 2007 New York Times profile of Romney's management of the Salt Lake City Olympics:

In the three years leading up to the Games, taxpayers ended up paying for a lot of things that had little to do with downhill racing or the perfect triple Lutz, including $33,000 for an Olympic horse adoption program and $55,000 for the Department of Justice to assess and resolve racial tension in Salt Lake City. More than half of the federal money was spent on security, but the federal government also footed the bill for shuttle buses, drug testing, park-and-ride lots and upgrades to the lighting at Salt Lake City International Airport.

Mr. Romney did reject some spending requests, annoying local politicians. But he also got behind some huge projects that he admitted at the time and in his book were not "must haves" for the Olympics, especially a light-rail system in Salt Lake City that some politicians were keen on having. At the time, just about every Utah political figure wanted to take some credit for the flood of cash. In a news release in October 2000, Senator Robert F. Bennett, a Republican, crowed over his successful "Olympic-related" requests, adding up to $24 million, for communications, public safety and weather equipment.

The growing list of Olympic expenditures exasperated Mr. McCain. In a speech on the Senate floor in October 1999, he said, "I do not know if we will ever stop this practice of earmarking and pork barreling, but I will never stop resisting it."

Mr. Romney has responded to criticism about the federal share of the Games by saying that taxpayer support for the 2002 Olympics was less than in previous Games — only 18 percent of the budget, compared with 50 percent for the Games at Lake Placid in 1980.

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It's interesting that all of all the good government issues John McCain has championed since his political prominence recovered in the 1990s, "stopping earmarks" is the only one that's survived.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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