West Virginia Republican Files Secret Spending Requests

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV) first several terms in Congress could best be described as “free-spending” — obtaining tens of millions dollars worth of earmarks and supporting George W. Bush’s expensive and not-paid-for Medicare Part D, Iraq War, stimulus program, and tax cuts for the wealthy. But while she now denounces the old earmark system as insufficiently “transparent,” she has instead adopted the far more opaque alternative: “lettermarking” funding for her home state.

A ThinkProgress review of lettermark requests — letters by Members of Congress to executive branch agencies requesting specific spending — found multiple letters from Capito to the Obama administration requesting grants. In a September 2011 letter to the Department of Energy, for instance, she endorsed SunShot Initiative grant request for her home state. The state later received a $500,000 grant under the program. Another Capito letter that year to Energy Secretary Steven Chu endorsed a proposal for the department’s Innovative Manufacturing Initiative.

While Capito quietly continues to push for spending on projects she deems worthy, she now presents herself publicly as a budget hawk. In a 2011 floor speech, she said: “Mr. Speaker, we’re broke. Everyone from the small business owner in West Virginia to Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s is looking to Washington to solve this fiscal mess.” In a tweet that year, she opined: “The President will not get my vote to raise the debt ceiling unless we cut spending. It’s time to start living within our means.” Federal spending has increased every year, despite earmark ban.

In the past, Capito was a strong defender of earmarking — the system Congress used to direct federal spending toward specific projects and locations. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, she obtained more than $33 million in earmarks spending between 2008 and 2010 (on her own or with colleagues). Several of her earmarks benefited her campaign donors.

Since gaining a majority in 2010, House Republicans have embraced a total moratorium on earmarks. Capito reluctantly accepted the change, saying that the move was “about providing more transparency, accountability and guidance in the earmarking system.” She defended her own earmarks as worthy, but conceded, “I have also heard my constituents ask us to stop the unlimited spending in government.”

As Capito endorsed the temporary ban, her press secretary signaled to constituents that she would find new ways to steer spending to her district. The Charleston Gazette reported:

Communities in Capito’s district can look for other federal funding, [Jamie] Corley said. They can send copies of their applications to Capito’s office, she said. “She can write letters on behalf of the requests.

Since the letters are only available to the public if someone requests them under the Freedom of Information Act — a slow and sometimes costly process — this system is far more opaque than the transparent earmark process it replaced.