WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is back in his home state of Kentucky this week, taking credit for the stacks of federal taxpayer cash he's sent back to the Bluegrass State.
Republicans, and McConnell especially, have an awkward relationship with so-called "earmarks" — the government money that used to be traded for votes on Capitol HIll — and three days after getting a Democratic opponent in his reelection bid, McConnell's awkwardness with earmarks was on full display.
The LEO Weekly, a alternative paper in Louisville, reported Wednesday that McConnell appeared at the opening of a bike track in the city where developers thanked him for steering $35 million in federal money their way when they had asked him to bring in $10 million. McConnell earmarked the money for the project back in 2005, before the tea party wave of 2010 made earmarking a political evil for Republicans.
McConnell fought to keep the earmarking system in place, backing down in 2010 after it became clear he didn't have the votes in his caucus to defeat a ban on the practice. A spokesperson for the NRSC didn't respond to a request for comment on McConnell's current stance on earmarks. McConnell's office didn't respond to a request for comment either.
McConnell boldly touted his earmarking skills in his 2008 election, saying his ability to steer federal taxpayer funds to Kentucky.
"The guy you're lookin' at, your Senator, the Republican Leader of the Senate, brought home to the Commonwealth last year $500 million," McConnell said on the campaign trail in 2008.
Three days after Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, announced her intention to run against McConnell next year, McConnell was out in Kentucky touting the money he brought back to the state and speaking of his "influence" in Washington. But now, with the GOP focused on reducing federal spending and the party's conservative wing rejecting earmarking outright, McConnell made clear the earmark came from a different time in Republican politics.
"Back in 2005, we were in a very good position to fund this project," McConnell said at the Louisville event Wednesday when asked if the federal government can afford to spend $35 million on parks in Kentucky. "It's an extremely significant project for the future of the community. I was glad to play a small role in it."
McConnell then went on to tout the private investments in the park project and called it "a gift to the city" from private donors. A March 13 Louisville Courier-Journal article posted to the park project's website notes McConnell brought in $38 million in federal funds while private donors provided $70.8 million.
As for Lundergan Grimes, McConnell said voters will reject her when they consider the juice he has in the Capitol.
"I don't think Kentuckians want to go back to the back bench when they have a seat on the front bench," McConnell said.
Video of McConnell talking about his earmarks at the park event
Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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