WASHINGTON - Liberal challengers of Senator Clinton's re-election bid said yesterday that the grants and contracts she secured earlier this month for contributors to her political action committee will help their efforts at casting the former first lady as an ally of big corporations and a politician for hire.
A former union leader, Jonathan Tasini, who recently decided to challenge Mrs. Clinton, largely because of her support for the Iraq war, said he is not surprised Mrs. Clinton secured federal money for individuals and businesses that have donated to her campaign committees. The New York Sun reported yesterday that Mrs. Clinton and Senator Schumer directed $123 million from the Department of Defense budget to New York projects that were not specifically requested by the Pentagon. The practice is common among lawmakers in Washington.
"We know where much of her money comes from - from large corporations who clearly anticipate something," Mr. Tasini said. "Whether it be Wal-Mart or Citigroup or law firms like Skadden Arps, these people don't contribute because of good will toward mankind. They expect something. And the denials about this just don't meet the smell test. I think all Americans know that corporate contributions are directly related to the help they get."
A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, Philippe Reines, defended the funding that the senator asked members of the Joint Conference Committee on Defense Appropriations to include in the 2006 defense budget that the Senate approved a week ago. Many of the pet projects, or "earmarks," were secured for companies with political action committees that have contributed to Mrs. Clinton's and Mr. Schumer's committees. Beneficiaries range from a Buffalo nanotechnology firm slated to receive $2 million to a cancer research program in Cold Spring Harbor that will get $1.5 million.
"Senator Clinton has asked the Appropriations Committee to support defense projects for New York firms and institutions which will promote our national security," Mr. Reines said. "And she is pleased that the conference committee agreed in providing funding for these vital projects."
Mr. Tasini represents a liberal wing of the Democratic Party that could cause trouble for Mrs. Clinton by exposing her to criticism from the left. An anti-war crusader, Cindy Sheehan, praised Mr. Tasini for entering the race against Mrs. Clinton and is featured prominently on his Web site. Mr. Tasini said his campaign will not accept money from corporate interests.
"Why aren't there earmarks for the poor? Why can't a poor person get an earmark for a decent house? Why can't 40 million Americans get earmarks for decent health care?," Mr. Tasini asked. "The answer is that they don't have the access that corporations do. I'm not anti-business, I'm anti-business as usual. And this is one of the areas that is corrupting the political process."
A professional saxophonist and a former Green Party member, Steven Greenfield, described earmarks as a favor committee chairmen use in gaining the support of lawmakers who might oppose the bill that the projects are folded into. He said that he would make the practice an issue in his campaign.
"This is one of the prime examples of an operation of government that needs to be brought to the attention of the public," Mr. Greenfield said. "I have a problem with a system that forces Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer to do what they're doing. And I have a problem with the fact that they did not raise their objections to this practice when the bill was being adopted."
Mr. Tasini said the influence of corporate interests in drafting legislation will continue as long as corporate entities or executives are allowed to donate to campaign committees. He proposed publicly financed campaigns as an alternative.
Meanwhile, the chairman of New York's Republican State Committee, Stephen Minarik, saw in the earmarks an opportunity to skewer one of his favorite political targets.
"The playbook for Senator Clinton is well-known and very simple," Mr. Minarik said. "If you want to get her focused on your issues, stuff her campaign coffers with gobs of special interest cash."