Throughout my years in Congress, I’ve enjoyed what I believe to be very fair coverage from highly professional journalists, including my home district newspapers. On rare occasions, a reporter writes a story that’s flat-out wrong or unfairly tries to imply that all members of Congress conduct themselves in the same manner. I was extremely disappointed by the recent news story written by a Washington-based reporter regarding the earmark process for securing federal support for projects here in our Congressional District. I’d like the opportunity to set the record straight and provide the constituents of the 18th Congressional District with the complete set of facts.
Of the 41 projects for which I helped to secure earmarked funds in fiscal year 2006, the reporter focused her story on four—two for Caterpillar, one for Firefly Energy, and one for Proctor Hospital—and somehow tried to tie them to campaign contributions I’ve received. Never have I asked someone for a contribution in return for funding we’ve secured or work my office has done. In fact, we routinely return contributions my campaign receives that include a letter or note referencing assistance someone has received from my office or how I voted on legislation.
Caterpillar is the largest employer in the 18th Congressional District, and I make no apologies for working with them to enhance the economy of our state. The jobs Caterpillar provides allow for a tremendous standard of living for their employees, and the employees of Caterpillar contribute mightily to the economy of Illinois. If I can help create more opportunities and jobs for Caterpillar and its employees, and, in turn, help the economy of the 18th District, I certainly will do that. I view that as part of my job as the representative of the people.
One of the major problems with this story is that it ignores the 37 other projects that received earmarked funds. The reporter didn’t speak to anyone associated with the $750,000 for Peoria County’s emergency radio upgrades, a project that will help protect the citizens of Peoria. She didn’t get reaction from officials in Logan County about the importance of the $250,000 secured to enhance their 9-1-1 system. She didn’t ask the people of Pleasant Plains, one of the largest communities in the state still entirely on a septic system, why $765,000 in funding was secured to help construct a new sanitary sewer system. She overlooked the folks of Mason County, who will get $500,000 for some much-needed infrastructure improvements as they look to bring economic opportunities to their county. None of these projects is represented by a lobbyist. Instead, they’re represented by hard-working local officials who approached me for assistance because they just don’t have the resources to get these projects done.
The story also ignores the fact that I’ve helped secure funding for projects that have been supported repeatedly through editorials of Copley newspapers—projects such as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, now open in Springfield; the Peoria Next Innovation Center, which is under construction; and funding to rehabilitate the Illinois River watershed. All are projects that have had long-standing, ongoing support by Copley newspapers. I believe the representatives of an area know their constituents’ priorities better than some Washington bureaucrat. If funding can be obtained for these worthwhile priorities through earmarks, then I’ll support those projects. Obviously, Copley does as well.
I support earmark transparency and will vote for reform legislation. In fact, the information on which this story was based is information supplied by my office. We provided the list of earmarked projects. We provided the amounts of campaign dollars raised. We provided the list of those who served on a steering committee, some of whom hosted fundraisers in the past. I supplied this information because I believe the taxpayers should know this information. But to somehow attempt to tie me to people like Jack Abramoff or Duke Cunningham is wrong, and it gives unfair license to a reporter in creating a perception that isn’t accurate.
The one thing I believe in more than any bill, vote, or earmark is that my service to the people of the 18th District, Illinois, and the country is done with the highest level of integrity and honesty. I take great pride in the work my office does for the people of the 18th District. We work in a professional manner. We do things honestly. We do our work ethically. We follow the laws when conducting our business, and that’s the way I’ll continue to do my job. IBI