The Associated Press has probed Barack Obama’s earmarking activities in the Illinois state senate and discovered two grants that put state money in the hands of Michelle Obama’s cousin. Capers Funnye received $75,000 from Obama for his organization, Blue Gargoyle, for adult literacy and youth group activities:
As a state senator, Democrat Barack Obama awarded $75,000 in government grants to a Chicago social service organization led by a rabbi who is also his wife’s cousin, records show.
In 1999, Obama arranged for $50,000 for adult literacy and counseling services offered on Chicago’s South Side by a group called Blue Gargoyle. A $25,000 grant for the group’s youth services followed the next year.
The group’s executive director when the grants were awarded was Capers Funnye, a South Side rabbi and Michelle Obama’s first cousin once removed.
Funnye (pronounced fun-NAY) said Monday there was nothing improper about the way Blue Gargoyle obtained the grants. Obama did not encourage him to apply for the money, he said, and Funnye denied using family connections to pressure Obama to approve the application.
So Obama had no idea that his wife’s cousin ran this group when he earmarked the money? That seems very, very difficult to believe. Funnye had to apply for the grants, and his name would have been on the application. Just the act of filing that application with Obama makes it clear that he sought favors from Obama, specifically Obama, and that Obama granted them.
Funnye claims that the earmarks (called “member initiatives” in Illinois) met legislative guidelines, but none existed during that period for earmarks. Legislators could spend taxpayer money without restriction and used the system to reward constituencies — and cronies. The governor wanted a major public-works bill passed, and in order to get that, made hundreds of millions of dollars available for politicians like Obama to spread around. In other words, the governor (Republican Jim Edgar at that time) paid off the legislature with earmarks that strengthened their political standing in their districts.
Nothing demonstrates the corrosive nature of earmarking, and why that process leads to runaway government spending, better than this example. Edgar couldn’t get that public-works bill passed without spreading pork around the legislature. (It should be remembered, though, that Edgar is known for having reduced government overall.) Pork greases the gears that allow big spending bills to pass, and even worse, it creates a permanent class of legislators who rarely face significant challenges in their districts. It’s not the amount of money wasted in pork spending that undermines democracy — it’s the mechanism itself.
Barack Obama reveled in that system. He sent money to friends and family (Michael Pfleger and Jeremiah Wright were two more recipients of his largesse) as an Illinois state senator, and as a US Senator, he sent money to his wife’s employer. Obama requested more than a million dollars a day in earmarks in his first three years in the Senate. He’s not part of the solution to Washington’s corruption — he’s part of the problem.