One of President Barack Obama’s earmarks has come back to haunt him–a $100,000 state grant that he obtained for a community garden in Englewood, on Chicago’s South Side, while he served in the state legislature. Like other Obama earmarks and crony projects–such as the Grove Parc housing project, exposed in a rare case of mainstream media vetting in 2008–the garden project failed. Now, the state wants its money back.
The Chicago Sun-Times brought up the Englewood project in 2008, noting that it had never been completed. Today, it reports that a garden has been developed on the site–by two non-profit groups not connected with Obama’s earmark, at a cost of less than $10,000. Attorney General Lisa Madigan began an investigation–with the support of the Obama campaign, reportedly–and determined that the state should recover the funds.
Not much has happened since then–but the Englewood earmark was hardly alone. In his short state and federal legislative career, Barack Obama left a long trail of earmarks. They included subsidies for a variety of state and local special interest groups, including an infamous $1 million earmark for the University of Chicago Hospital, where Michelle Obama’s salary more than doubled after her husband took office in the U.S. Senate.
Obama’s earmarks became an issue in the 2008 campaign, and were targeted by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who boasted that he had never requested or received earmarks. Obama attempted to turn that attack against his Republican opponent during the summer floods in the Midwest, arguing that by voting against a pork-filled flood relief bill in 2007, McCain had left cities along the Mississippi river defenseless against the rising waters.
A comprehensive review of Obama’s own “flood relief” earmarks, however, revealed that most were nowhere near the Mississippi River, and that many merely funneled cash to local authorities–often in the most affluent areas of Illinois. The arguments over pork-versus-disaster relief returned again in the battle over funding for victims of Hurricane Sandy, where a substantial portion of the original bill was unrelated pork spending.
Obama also insisted on a version of the “fiscal cliff” bill that had been drafted for Sen. Max Baucus months in advance with the help of K Street lobbyists and that included generous tax giveaways to Hollywood, NASCAR, and other special interests. According to Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner, the White House insisted “absolutely” that the exact language of the Baucus bill, will all of its favors and subsidies, be adopted.
The fact is that while Obama may have come to Washington to change it–in a sharply leftist direction–he did not come to clean it up. His administration has been a disaster in transparency terms–all the more so because of the glaring hypocrisy surrounding its self-righteous, sanctimonious claims to be the most open in presidential history. The use of earmarks is how politicians in Chicago do ordinary business; it is what Obama knows.
David Axelrod, Obama’s top political guru, even wrote an article defending corruption in then-Mayor Daley in 2005, calling city government a “well-oiled machine.” That is the philosophy that Obama has brought to Washington. For every Englewood, for every Grove Parc, there is another Solyndra waiting to be discovered. Nothing–not disaster relief, not emergency financial measures–is safe from Obama’s corrupt ethic.