(No mention of this local and national news story in the Hawaii media--little wonder why.)
Earmark applicant's complaint fuels critics
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff | October 29, 2009 (from Taxpayers for Common Sense)
WASHINGTON - They had no track record, no airplanes, no political sponsor, and they missed a deadline for requesting money. So it was hardly surprising that the founders of a nonprofit disaster relief organization were rejected this year when they lobbied for a $20 million earmark in a Senate defense budget.
But the lesson in earmark politics was not over for Paul Asmus, a former aviation executive, and Michael Coker, a veteran pilot from Hawaii.
After being told it was too late to get money for their operation, they were stunned to learn that the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, Daniel Inouye, subsequently approved a $20 million earmark to build the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate, which will rise on the shore of Boston Harbor next to the John F. Kennedy Library.
Contending they were treated unfairly, Asmus and Coker have written to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They are accusing Inouye’s staff of unevenly applying earmark procedures by dispersing federal dollars to an institute honoring the late Massachusetts senator without giving their outfit, Humanitarian Air Logistics, what they consider a fair hearing.
“We have one of the most powerful senators in the United States controlling over $2 trillion in annual spending and refusing to sponsor our project in his home state, but he did sponsor one in another state for his political colleagues and personal friends,’’ said Asmus, who founded Humanitarian Air Logistics two years ago.
The would-be airlift operators thought they had a good case when they sought their funding. They had won a modest signal of support from a four-star admiral commanding the Pacific Ocean fleet, and their mission was tangentially related to defense, because the US military conducts humanitarian airlifts, or contracts out the work.
The Kennedy Institute, though it lacked any relation to the defense budget, had far more political support, including the backing of Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and a roster of influential former staffers to the late senator, who died of brain cancer on Aug. 25.
Earmarks are expenditures added to budgets at the request of members of Congress, typically outside the budgeting system of federal departments and often used for pet projects in home states. The $360 billion defense appropriations bill pending in the Senate contains 778 earmarks worth $2.67 billion.
Inouye’s office declined to discuss how candidates for earmarks are selected, including who advocates for them, when they are filed, and who ultimately approves them. “We’re not going to talk about the committee’s internal deliberations,’’ said Lori Hamamoto, Inouye’s press secretary.
As for the assertions by Asmus and Coker of unfair treatment, she would not discuss the content of their contacts with Inouye’s staff. Walt Kaneakua, an Inouye aide who Asmus and Coker say accused them of insulting Inouye by questioning his decision-making process, did not respond to a request for comment.
The public complaints from Asmus and Coker are highly unusual because they contrast the rejection of their earmark with the success of another while seeking an egalitarian approach from an earmarking system that is notoriously political. To critics of earmarks, their grievances provide evidence of what is wrong with the entire practice.
“It really exposes how intellectually bankrupt the system is,’’ said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington. Asmus and Coker “have no right to get this money but they are so indignant about the whole system they are going to complain about it.’’
“It shows how arbitrary it is, as opposed to a merit-based system,’’ he said.
The Humanitarian Airlift Support Association, which is affiliated with Humanitarian Air Logistics, was lobbying for $20 million to jump-start the operation. In their pitch to Inouye’s staff, Asmus and Coker said they would have used part of the money to purchase or lease surplus military cargo planes or commercial aircraft.
The organization says it wants to ease the burden on the US military, which has increasingly been called on to respond to natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes.
In June, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy J. Keating, wrote to Asmus and Coker that “Humanitarian Air Logistics could potentially add to existing capabilities and provide greater flexibility . . . to support these assistance and relief operations.’’ What’s more, Asmus cited data that show the Pentagon has already been spending hundreds of millions to hire private Russian cargo companies to ferry humanitarian supplies.
Their arguments never gained traction.
“They said ‘it’s too late to fund you,’ ’’ Coker recalled in an interview from Honolulu. “Then they peel money from a military fund and give it to a library.’’
Asmus and Coker say all they want is a fair hearing before Inouye to make their case. “It is our belief that the senator has never had the advantage of a full and objective briefing regarding the concept of Humanitarian Air Logistics due to the subjective screening process employed by his staff,’’ they wrote to Reid on Oct. 14.
Reid’s office has yet to respond, but Ellis thinks one thing is a pretty sure bet: “They are virtually guaranteeing they will never get an earmark from Inouye.’’
LINK: Earmark applicant's complaint fuels critics (Boston Globe)
LINK: Article on Taxpayers for Common Sense website with comments
Note from Taxpayers for Common Sense website:
Posted by: Paul Asmus | October 30, 2009
Our nonprofit organization is one of the parties to this complaint. We approached members of congress and the media with an open & transparent process. The article has one important correction, Sen. Inouye's staff NEVER informed us of any deadline and we did make contact with his office in Dec. 2008 early enough for the FY10 process.
What I don't understand is why a nonprofit which was formed to take over the humanitarian airlift role from the US military - is not worthy of initial funding.
RELATED: Firms that donate to Inouye receive his earmarks
Hawai`i Free Press Oct 6: Inouye earmarks tied to campaign contributions, Hawai`i Free Press Sept 28: Inouye's DoD Pork: "Paid for by raiding Iraq and Afghan maintenance, food, & fuel" March 10 Earmark Watch: Focus on Hawaii U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, Feb 26: Business as Usual: Neil Abercrombie Votes to Kill Motion to Investigate Pay-to-Play Earmark Schemes
Here's a look at Abercrombie and one of his contributors: Follow the money: $10B Guam pork project benefits Abercrombie contributor
AP: Earmarks by and campaign contributions to Inouye