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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

A gaping budget deficit wasn't the lone driver behind the state's campaign for more federal money. A list of talking points, dated August 25, 2003, shows that Romney aides believed the state wasn't getting its "fair share" of Washington's largesse. The document cites a list compiled by the good-government group Citizens Against Government Waste, outlining how much "pork-barrel" spending states received in 2003, when Massachusetts ranked 48th of 51, with an average of $16.65 per resident. (The national average was $34.33.) Indeed, the state had ranked near last place for a decade. "Status quo is not working," the memo reads. "The Commonwealth must be more aggressive in securing and retaining more federal dollars."

The memo makes clear that Romney played a key role in this effort, which his staffers said would ease the state's "financial burden." The memo says, "As the state's lead salesman, the Governor is committed to pursuing increased funding opportunities in Washington, DC, based on the prioritized needs of agencies."

 

In August 2003, the Romney administration enlisted Cassidy & Associates, a powerful DC lobbying firm, to help the state rake in more federal money. (The state had hired Cassidy in December 2002 for help on other issues.) However, an August 21 fax from Romney adviser Tom Lawler urged the administration to dump Cassidy after the firm failed to fulfill its contract. (A spokesman for Cassidy & Associates did not respond to a request for comment.)

 

Romney's push paid off. Massachusetts jumped from 48th on Citizens Against Government Waste's 2003 pork list to 39th in 2004, with federal appropriations increasing from $107.8 million to $120.8 million. Massachusetts held onto 39th again in 2005, bringing in $150.4 million from Washington. In 2006, the state dropped to 46th on the pork list, with its annual haul totaling $116.8 million. (CAGW didn't release a pork list in 2007, the year Romney left office, because 9 of 11 appropriations bills failed to pass Congress due to a moratorium on earmarks.)

By contrast, Texas ranked lower on CAGW's pork list under Romney's presidential rival Gov. Rick Perry than Massachusetts during Romney's tenure as governor. Indeed, in 2005, Texas ranked dead last in states reeling in federal money. On the other hand, Utah, under then-governor and current GOP contender Jon Huntsman, ranked higher than Massachusetts in 2005 and 2006.

Larry Sabato says Romney's government spending flip-flop could hurt him more in the fight for the nomination than in the general election. After all, polls show that Republicans favor hard-line conservative governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Florida's Rick Scott, both of whom rejected federal transportation funds. "This is a very conservative Republican Party, and they sense a real opportunity to win and they want a true believer," Sabato says. "That's why there's such resistance to Romney."

Andy Smith, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, doubts that Romney's past zeal for loading up on federal dollars will hurt his standing in New Hampshire. Romney, Smith says, enjoys wide support among the state's voters, and notes that politicians chasing on pork barrel spending isn't a problem unique to Romney. "In New Hampshire, his personal favorability ratings and the sense of inevitability is going to be very hard to overcome in the last six weeks," Smith says. "It's another one of those things where Romney's got problems, but so does pretty much everyone who's had to balance budgets."

Iowa State University political scientist David Peterson also questions whether Romney's record on federal spending will harm his chances in Iowa's upcoming caucus. "Iowans already know he's shifted his stance on just about everything," he says.

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