Hal Rogers — Appropriations Committee?

For 30 years, Kentucky lawmaker brings home the bacon

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Kentucky’s Hal Rogers, a prime candidate to take over the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee, which controls federal spending, has won kudos from many in his state — and a bit of criticism too — for bringing home lots of federal pork since he won his seat in 1980.

Rogers, 72, represents the impoverished 5th district in eastern Kentucky and has had lots of opportunities to corral funds for his constituents. Since 1995, he’s chaired three different appropriations subcommittees: Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary; Transportation; and Homeland Security.

The bricks and mortar that Rogers has secured for his district includes such pricey projects as a giant $341 million concrete wall to seal leaks at a Lake Cumberland dam after tourism there declined due to lower water levels.

When the Lexington Herald Leader called him the “Prince of Pork,” Rogers responded that “I’m two people. I’m a national legislator and I’m a local Congressman.”

Still, several of his earmark requests have generated media controversy. In 2005, for instance, when Rogers slipped a provision into a spending bill requiring that the Department of Homeland Security retain a Virginia trade group that had sponsored trips for him, criticism ensued, and the no-bid contract was canceled.

Rogers, now the third-ranking Republican member on the Appropriations Committee, tried to win the chairmanship in 2005 but lost to Jerry Lewis of California. Lewis is again vying for the post, but is considered an underdog.

Raised in Monticello in the southern part of the state, Rogers received a law degree from the University of Kentucky. Early in his career, Rogers did stints as the commonwealth attorney for two counties in the southeastern part of the state and lost a bid to be lieutenant governor, before being elected to the House three decades ago. He is now the longest serving Kentuckian in Congress.

Although he’s long been one of the House’s leading beneficiaries and advocates of earmarks, Rogers endorsed a Republican moratorium last March on earmarks for fiscal 2011, and says he would support a continuation of the moratorium.

Top PAC contributors

  • Lockheed Martin Corp, the defense giant — at least $35,000
  • United Parcel Service, the postal shipping firm — at least $30,400
  • Raytheon Corp., a major defense contractor — at least $29,000
  • United Technologies, another giant defense company — at least $27,500
  • Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a big Pentagon contractor — at least $27,500
  • Honeywell International, a diversified technology firm that ranks among the Pentagon’s top 50 contractors — at least $27,500
  • PACs gave at least $1 million to Rogers’ campaign account and to his Help America’s Leaders PAC. Roger received almost $342,000 more in contributions from PACs than from individuals

Revolving door

  • Elizabeth “Sissy” Pressnell, an ex-legislative director, left to lobby on defense and other appropriations issues and now works at D.C. Associates in Alexandria, Va
  • Steve Carey, a former legislative director, now runs Potomac Strategic Development Co., and is a registered lobbyist for Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, Lions Clubs International, and Zerco Systems International

Earmarks

  • Between 2008 and 2010, Rogers obtained $246.4 million in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
  • In 2010, Rogers ranked 4th in the House in total earmarks he secured by himself. Some 34 Rogers-backed earmarks were worth more than $68.3 million

Stimulus letters

  • Rogers voted against the 2009 economic stimulus bill. In a letter to the Commerce Department, he backed a grant proposal from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives to expand public access to computer centers in Appalachian Kentucky as a way to help the economy amid high unemployment

Ethical issues

  • Rogers has been sharply criticized by two government watchdog groups — Citizens Against Government Waste and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — for his penchant for pork barrel projects. The latter group claims Rogers abused his position in 2009 to steer some $30 million in earmarks to companies that contributed $48,000 to his political committees. In response, Rogers says his efforts to help constituents have created more than 10,000 jobs in his district. “I have attempted to address the needs that others have forgotten to make southern and eastern Kentucky a better place to live, work, and raise a family,” Rogers said in a statement to the Center.

Campaign promises

  • Rogers has backed the House GOP’s “Pledge to America,” saying, “Americans shouldn’t have to serve Congress by paying higher taxes and bearing the burden of an astronomical debt; rather, Congress should serve the people and immediately rein in spending and stop making government the answer for every problem”
  • Rogers said in a statement to the Center that his top three priorities if he becomes chairman would be to “significantly reign in discretionary spending by scaling back to pre-TARP, pre-stimulus funding levels, and perhaps even further;” to “conduct vigorous and legitimate oversight, closely scrutinizing budget requests;” and to return the committee’s operations to “regular order and collaboration”

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