Billions in aid go to areas that backed Obama in '08
WASHINGTON — Billions of dollars in federal aid delivered directly to the local level to help revive the economy have gone overwhelmingly to places that supported President Obama in last year's presidential election.
That aid — about $17 billion — is the first piece of the administration's massive stimulus package that can be tracked locally. Much of it has followed a well-worn path to places that regularly collect a bigger share of federal grants and contracts, guided by formulas that have been in place for decades and leave little room for manipulation.
"There's no politics at work when it comes to spending for the recovery," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says.
Counties that supported Obama last year have reaped twice as much money per person from the administration's $787 billion economic stimulus package as those that voted for his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, a USA TODAY analysis of government disclosure and accounting records shows. That money includes aid to repair military bases, improve public housing and help students pay for college.
The reports show the 872 counties that supported Obama received about $69 per person, on average. The 2,234 that supported McCain received about $34.
Investigators who track the stimulus are skeptical that political considerations could be at work. The imbalance is so pronounced — and the aid so far from complete — that it would be almost inconceivable for it to be the result of political tinkering, says Adam Hughes, the director of federal fiscal policy for the non-profit OMB Watch. "Even if they wanted to, I don't think the administration has enough people in place yet to actually do that," he says.
"Most of what they're doing at this point is just stamping the checks and sending them out," Hughes says.
The stimulus package Obama signed in February includes about $499 billion in new spending, and to date, the Obama administration has allocated about $158 billion to specific projects and programs. Most of that money has gone directly to state governments, which then disperse the money to prevent school layoffs, repair roads and fund social services. That contrasts with the $17 billion that Washington distributes directly to local communities.
Including the larger chunk of money given to state governments, the aid favors states that voted for Obama, which have received about 20% more per person
Not all of the money favors places that supported Obama. About a third of the $17 billion, or $5.5 billion, in contracts that the federal government has signed for projects ranging from repaving runways to cleaning up nuclear waste has gone overwhelmingly to counties that supported McCain.
Jake Wiens, an investigator with the non-profit Project on Government Oversight, says it's too soon to draw meaningful conclusions about whether the type of aid in the stimulus favors Obama's constituents.
But, he says, "it will be important to pay close attention as the data come in to ensure that political favoritism plays no role."
The imbalance didn't start with the stimulus. From 2005 through 2007, the counties that later voted for Obama collected about 50% more government aid than those that supported McCain, according to spending reports from the U.S. Census Bureau. USA TODAY's review did not include Alaska, which does not report its election results by county.
Yeah, I have a feeling that those counties favoring Obama are probably those that get more money because they have less to begin with. Now watch, someone in the GOP will try and make something out of this.