Jeff Flake, U.S. Senate Candidate, Says He's Opposed to Budget Earmarks, But Looked the Other Way When it was Politically Convenient

Congressman Jeff Flake, who is running for U.S. Senate against former U.S. Surgeon General Rich Carmona, says he doesn't like earmarks, which some call "pork barrel spending."

He certainly has earned a reputation for fighting against federal funding for specific projects attached to unrelated bills and routinely highlighting what he thought qualified as the egregious earmark of the week.

And it is Flake's well-known distaste for pork that his campaign team now uses to explain why he voted against some proposed laws aimed at benefiting veterans.

But his critic note that Flake has voted in favor of measure that have so-called "pork" attached to them, and has looked the other way when earmarked dollars were being funneled into his congressional district by other members of Congress.

Carmona, who served as a Special Forces soldier in Vietnam, released a list of more than a dozen anti-veteran votes cast by Flake. And a national veteran's group, VoteVets.org, followed up with a campaign ad slamming Flake for his half-hearted support of veterans.

Watch it at the end of this blog.
Flake, who has never served in the military, voted against measures that made education assistance available for individuals who served at least three years in the military, provided $1,500 bonuses for service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan and ensured veterans' access to affordable housing.

Andrew Wilder, communications director for Flake's campaign, still hasn't return calls.

Flake's campaign has told other media outlets that his opposition was to the earmarks, not veterans support, but his detractors are quick to point out that the longtime Congressman has found ways to vote for measures with earmarks when it's politically expedient.

Take the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 -- which most people know as the Bush Tax Cuts.

Flake voted in favor of that measure, which critics say disproportionately benefited the wealthy and corporations, even though it included $10 billion in funding assistance for state and local governments, and another $10 billion for medicaid (health insurance for the poor).

State Representative Ruben Gallego, a former Marine and Iraq veteran, says such votes demonstrate Flake can stray from being purist, and then revert back to his political ideologies when it's convenient.

Retired Army General Wesley Clark, chairman of VoteVets advisory board, said in a recent statement:

"When you are one of only twelve House members out of over 400 to oppose a new GI Bill for our troops and one of only three to oppose job training for veterans, you are extremely far out of the mainstream."

Flake's campaign countered the attack by releasing a list of more than 80 examples of times he voted in favor of veterans, and came up with a campaign ad featuring a veteran who Flake helped during his time in Congress.

Critics of Flake go further, noting that he wasn't pitching a fit when his own constituents in Arizona's Sixth Congressional District sought help to obtain federal funding from other Arizona congressman.

Former Congressman Harry Mitchell was one of them.

In 2007, the East Valley Tribune reported that Mitchell has been a strong advocate for investment in the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and secured $1.75 million in federal funding to improve taxiways at airport.

The airport is in the heart of Flake's congressional district.

Flake wouldn't necessarily vote in favor of the measures, but he also wouldn't rally against them on the House floor as he did for other earmarks. It's was why he became known as the "Vote-No-But-Get-The-Dough" guy.

"It was almost like we were representing two districts," says Robbie Sherwood, who was Mitchell's district director at the time. "They wouldn't ask Flake for help because they knew he wouldn't help them."

The practice of using earmarks, which make up less than 1 percent of the federal budget, have since been halted. In March 2010, the House of Representatives banned earmarks to for-profit companies. The following year, the House and the Senate adopted a two-year moratorium on earmarks.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo