Montana jumps queue for Homeland Security funding after two Democratic Senators meet with Napolitano
The Obama administration said Friday that two Democratic senators falsely took credit for steering millions of dollars to projects in their home state, even as officials acknowledged that the Homeland Security secretary met with the lawmakers and discussed financing the projects.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano denies politics played any role in distributing stimulus money. The Associated Press reported this week that her department did not follow its own priority list when selecting projects.
Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have taken credit for helping secure $77 million in stimulus money for repairs at border stations in their state. That includes $15 million for a Whitetail, Mont., checkpoint that sees three travelers a day.
"Politicians take credit for things that go on in their state whether they deserve it or not," Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said Friday. "These guys are politicians. I don't think anyone should be surprised if they decided to jump in front of that and take some credit for that."
It was an unusually pointed criticism directed at two Democrats. Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key ally in the Obama administration's push for a health care overhaul.
At first, Smith and Napolitano's chief of staff, Noah Kroloff, denied that Napolitano even met with Tester and Baucus. After the AP contacted the two lawmakers, Smith acknowledged two meetings during the presidential transition, when Napolitano had been nominated but not confirmed.
A reference to the senators' meetings was included in an AP story this week that raised questions about the funding process.
During the Jan. 16 meeting, Baucus told Napolitano it was important to spend money on checkpoints along the Canadian border, citing concerns about illegal activity there, said Tyler Matsdorf, a spokesman for Baucus. He said they did not discuss specific projects.
Tester similarly met with Napolitano Jan. 14 and "discussed in general the importance of strengthening security along Montana's northern border," his spokesman Aaron Murphy said.
After Montana projects received $77 million under the stimulus, Tester issued a press release crediting those meetings with Napolitano. . . .
Napolitano herself acknowledged in April that politicians can influence how money gets spent. . . . .