Report finds spike in earmarks to Democratic lawmakers during controversial votes

The Heritage Foundation has issued a new report that charges the Obama administration sent presidential earmarks, taxpayer dollars, to Democratic lawmakers to help convince them to vote for controversial proposals such as cap and trade and the health care bill.

"When you examine the recipients of those grants, there were at least 32 vulnerable house Democrats who received significant federal grant money during the run-up or directly after the votes on those pieces of legislation," says Lachlan Markay, one of the authors of the report.

The amount of earmarks spiked around the time of difficult votes such as cap and trade, then dropped, only to spike again around controversial financial regulations known as Dodd/Frank, and spiked the most just before the vote on the health care bill.

Cap and trade was tough for many Democrats, especially in the Midwest, because even the president acknowledged it would, as he put it, cause energy prices to "skyrocket."

The health care law remains controversial even today, with many polls showing majority of Americans oppose to it.

On their websites, lawmakers didn't advertise their votes, but did tout at length the money they'd gotten for various local projects.

"As a way to counteract the negative voter sentiment that would come from voting for unpopular legislation," says Markay. "These were attempts to make sure that constituents knew they were bringing money home to their district."

Nevertheless, the White House argued today nothing was amiss.

"The president's opposition to earmarks is well known. The fact of the matter is I'm confident the issuance of grants from agencies are done ... in a merit based way," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

President Obama didn't invent the practice. FDR used it to great effect and President Nixon is reported to have used earmarks to help win support for re-election by sending funds to key states or voting blocs.

But President Obama has vastly expanded the practice.

Numbers from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service show that the value of administration earmarks under President Obama increased by a 126 percent in his first two years in office and the actual number of administrative earmarks increased by 54 percent.

Those are dramatic increases that are 11 times more than Congress itself increased earmarks, which the White House did not explain today.

It also does not square with statements the president is against earmarks, which he and his administration appear to have used to great effect and with increasing frequency.