WASHINGTON - Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton helped secure more than $340 million worth of special projects for her home state of New York in last year's spending bills, according to a new study by a government watchdog group.
The figure places her among the top 10 Senate recipients of what are commonly known as earmarks, said the group, Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Working in nearly every case with New York colleagues, Clinton supported almost four times as much spending on earmarked projects as her rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, whose $91 million total placed him in the bottom quarter of senators who seek earmarks, the study showed.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, the likely GOP presidential nominee, was one of five senators to reject earmarks entirely, part of his longstanding position that the controversial measures prompt needless spending.
As a campaign issue, earmarks highlight significant differences in the spending philosophies of the three top candidates. Clinton has repeatedly supported earmarks as a way of bringing home money for vital projects, while Obama adheres to a policy of using them only to support public entities. McCain already is using his blanket opposition to earmarked spending as a regular line of attack against Clinton, even running an Internet ad mocking her $1 million earmark request for a museum devoted to the Woodstock music festival. Obama has been criticized for using a 2006 earmark to secure funds for the University of Chicago hospital where his wife worked until last year.
The new report is the first to compile all the earmarks each lawmaker inserted in the spending bills for an entire fiscal year. It notes the explosive growth of the practice, which amounted to more than $18 billion in fiscal 2008.
Stung by criticism of the practice, President Bush and an increasing number of lawmakers have started openly campaigning against the use of earmarks.
Bush, in his final State of the Union last month, vowed to veto any spending bills for 2009 that do not cut back on earmarks, and 22 House members have sworn off seeking them. While most are Republicans, they were joined yesterday by Representative Henry A. Waxman, a key committee chairman and a California Democrat.
"Congressional spending through earmarks is out of control," he said.
Lawmakers previously were allowed to insert multimillion-dollar items in spending bills without publicly identifying themselves as sponsors. House and Senate Democrats enacted sunshine laws last year requiring sponsorship of earmarks.
Though they are still just a tiny fraction of the federal budget, earmarks remain a multibillion-dollar business on Capitol Hill. Congress inserted 12,881 earmarks, worth $18.3 billion, in spending bills that Bush signed into law, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
That is a 23 percent drop from the record level of earmarked funds for fiscal year 2005.