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Internal Documents Reveal Mitt Romney's Pork Barrel Past

The GOP front-runner says he's a cost-cutting conservative. But as Massachusetts' governor, he hoovered up federal dollars.

| Wed Nov. 30, 2011 6:00 AM EST
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall event in New Hampshire on November 3.

On November 3, at a town hall event in Exeter, New Hampshire, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney laid out his plan to make the federal government "smaller, simpler, smarter." As president, Romney would slash spending, root out waste, and balance the federal budget—to do otherwise, he said, would push the country to the brink of collapse. "If we keep spending like we're spending, and borrowing like we're borrowing, at some point we could face what Greece faces," he warned. Behind Romney as he spoke hung a bright blue banner: "CUT THE SPENDING."

Not long ago, however, he took a much different view of federal spending. Far from decrying Washington's spendthrift ways, Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, sought to position his state to hoover up every federal dollar it could—and to use that money to help solve a state budget crisis.

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According to memos, emails, and other records now housed in the state archives, the Romney administration made the pursuit of federal funding a top priority, establishing a federal grants office to scour for opportunities and bolstering its presence in DC by retaining a powerful lobbying shop for help. Internal documents show the administration bemoaning its low ranking in an annual "pork list" detailing which states brought home the most federal bacon, and aggressively planning to boost that ranking. Which they did: Between 2003, when Romney took office, and 2006, Massachusetts climbed as high as nine spots in the pork rankings.

That Romney once coveted the spending he now denounces reinforces his image as a politician whose positions change with the political headwinds, say political scientists. It could also further alienate him from a Republican Party that has swung further to the right and from die-hard conservative voters who, in large numbers, support governors known for rejecting Washington's money. "It plays into the theme that both Republicans and the Obama White House are using against Mitt Romney: the flip-flopping," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "It's the hypocrisy angle to the flip-flop charge."

Romney's federal spending flip-flop dates back to his first presidential run in 2008, when he railed against the same earmarks he pursued as governor. "As President, I pledge to use every available method to eliminate wasteful earmarks in the federal budget," he said in a December 21, 2007, press release. "Change in Washington begins when we change the culture that allows earmarks, pet projects and wasteful spending to thrive in the place of being good fiscal stewards of the taxpayers' money." (A Romney spokeswoman didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.)

As a candidate, Romney often boasts of closing a $3 billion budget deficit without borrowing money or raising taxes. Never does he mention his push to rake in federal dollars, which began near the start of his governorship. On May 8, 2003, four months after he took office, he unveiled his "Tapping Our Potential" (TOP) plan to a crowd at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Reeling in more money from Washington was front and center in his plan to jump-start Massachusetts' economy.

Romney's federal spending strategy caught the eye of at least one high-powered lobbyist. In a letter to Romney after the Chamber speech, Deirdre Phillips, the top lobbyist for FleetBoston Financial, wrote, "I was particularly struck when you talked about going after funding from Washington." Phillips urged Romney to team up with FleetBoston and other Boston companies who could "carry your message" in Washington. (Phillips, now executive director of the Autism Consortium, wrote in an email that her letter "speaks for itself.") 


A few weeks later, the Romney administration rolled out a new "federal grants advocacy center" devoted to securing more federal money. According to an internal memo sent by Gayl Mileszko, a Romney aide, to top agency heads and the governor's office, the new center would ramp Massachusetts' share of federal grant money doled out each year. Running the new center would be the director of Massachusetts' DC office, Frank Micciche, now a lobbyist at the McKenna Long & Aldridge law firm. (Mileszko and Micciche both declined to comment.)


A July 1, 2003, planning email from Mileszko stressed Romney's "personal interest and commitment" to bringing in more federal grants. On July 2, 2003, Cindy Gillespie, then Romney's chief of legislative and intergovernmental affairs, penned a memo titled "Objective: Increase Federal Funds to Massachusetts." The first sentence reads, "A major priority of our Administration is to ensure that Massachusetts receives the maximum amount of dollars available from the federal government." Gillespie goes on to say that Romney and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey would coordinate with cabinet secretaries on the announcements and promotion of new federal funds received by the state.

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