The Schnorrer State

The accomplishments Ted Stevens brags about are worse than the crimes he denies.


A few years ago, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma suggested taking money earmarked for a notoriously extravagant "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska and using it for reconstruction in Louisiana. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, a fellow Republican, angrily declared, "This is the first time I have seen any attempt by any senator to treat my state…differently from any other state."

In a tirade that included threats to behave like "a wounded bull on the floor of the Senate," to "be taken out of here on a stretcher," and to "resign from this body," Stevens' insistence that all he wanted was equal treatment for Alaska may have been the least believable thing he said. During the last four decades, no one has done more than Stevens to ensure that Alaska is treated unequally, receiving far more in federal spending than it pays in taxes.

The octogenarian senator's gift for grabbing dollars in the zero-sum game of congressional appropriations helps explain his easy victory in last summer's Republican primary, despite his indictment less than a month before on federal charges of hiding corporate gifts. Yet the "track record of delivering results for Alaskans" he brags about is more scandalous than the crimes he denies.

Federal prosecutors accused Stevens of violating the Ethics in Government Act by failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts from VECO Corp., a now-defunct oil services and construction company whose CEO has admitted bribing state officials. Stevens' trial was expected to conclude a few weeks before the November 4 general election.

Although the government said Stevens "could and did use his official position and his office on behalf of VECO," it did not charge him with accepting bribes, apparently because it did not have enough evidence of a quid pro quo. But if Stevens did help VECO with grants or contracts, it was of a piece with the "results" he has delivered for his constituents since he joined the Senate in 1968. And the amount of taxpayer money involved was a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of dollars he has directed Alaska's way.

From 2004 to 2008, Taxpayers for Common Sense reports, Stevens had a hand in 891 Alaska-benefiting earmarks worth $3.2 billion. That works out to about $4,800 per Alaskan, 18 times the national average. And earmarks represent just a fraction of federal spending in Alaska, which totaled $9 billion in 2006 alone.

According to the Tax Foundation, Alaska ranked first in federal spending per capita in 18 of the 25 years from 1981 through 2005. In 2005 Alaskans received $1.84 for every dollar they sent to Washington in taxes. Stevens has played such an important role in this northward redistribution of income that Alaskans call federal spending "Stevens money."

Alaska continues to receive these subsidies even though its government, which collects neither sales nor income tax from state residents, is flush with oil revenue and running budget surpluses. Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, portrayed by allies as a foe of old-school, money-grubbing Alaska Republicans like Stevens, has been happy to rake in the federal dollars as governor (and as mayor of Wasilla).

Although Alaskans are the biggest beneficiaries of congressional largess, Stevens, who lobbied for statehood in the 1950s, still sees them as victims of a high-handed federal government. During his 2005 tantrum over Tom Coburn's proposal to move transportation money from Alaska to hurricane-stricken Louisiana (a proposal the Senate overwhelmingly rejected), Stevens repeatedly invoked his state's "sovereign" and "equal" status, seemingly worried that his colleagues were disrespecting Alaska behind his back. His attitude was reminiscent of a beggar who not only demands a handout but insists that everyone pretend the money was his all along.

Senior Editor Jacob Sullum writes a weekly syndicated column. © Copyright 2008 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. I’m gonna take a line from Putin.

    “Hang him by the balls!!!”

  2. Not defending Steven’s money grubbing one bit (did he ever vote against a budget bill?), but to be somewhat fair, the Federal Government owns 60% of the landmass in the state of Alaska. Like all Western states with large Federal landholdings, Alaska receives “more than it’s fair share” of federal dollars, usually for that reason.

    If the Feds would turn ANWR over to the State, I’m pretty sure the state gubmit would be willing to give up some of that additional $.84 per dollar extra that we get back.

    As for “Uncle Ted”, may he rot in hell. For 40 years the average American’s taxes have been increasing and he is 100% complicit in it. Earmark funneling or no, the man is a crook.

  3. Kwix does bring up an interesting point about Alaska’s uniqueness. Still, Sarah Palin has shattered the old politics-as-usual illuminati stranglehold up North. Stevens is history.

  4. Kwix, If the federal government gave up the land, why would or should it turn it over to the state of Alaska? Why not sell it off for the benefit of all the states?

  5. Someone remind me.. What did we gain by making Alaska a state?


  6. Before anyone who believes Ted Stevens is guilty as charged and makes assumptions and judgments about the case and the personal charter of Ted Stevens should take an objective look at the case!

    I personally have known Bill Allen for decades, worked closely with him and am also acquainted with Ted Stevens. I am very familiar with the details of the case, I know the VECO Forman on the job and was details about the remodel work done on Ted Steven’s home told to me by Bill Allen himself , the contractor who was involved with the remodel. The media and public in general know little or nothing about the case, Ted Stevens or Bill Allen. Anyone who takes the time to objectively consider the case will likely suspect or conclude very differently from the public has been lead to believe.

    Some important facts to consider:

    Firstly, many believe and it certainly appears that this is most likely a politically motivated operation to remove Ted Stevens, perhaps the most powerful conservative roadblocks against the liberal agenda left in the Senate.

    Second: Bill Allen stood to lose at least $40,000,000 and up to 70 million dollars plus a much harsher sentence if for charges unrelated to Ted Stevens if Ted was found innocent. Bill Allen reversed himself on the stand from and admitted that he had not intent of bribing Ted Stevens and agreed Ted Stevens could not have been bribed even if he tried. How can a self-confessed felon who has so much at stake and who is under investigation for child sex-abuse and alleged conspired to kill his own nephew (the Forman on the Stevens remodel) be allowed on the stand much less considered a truthful star witness?

    Third: Ted Stevens requested bills for all work done more then once; he was billed over $160,000 for the work and paid all those bills, having to take a substantial mortgage to fund the project. The Silly Fish sculpture is basically Junk he never wanted and was allegedly intended for a Foundation Ted was founding and not a personal gift. The Gas Grill he never wanted, requested, accepted or used. Bill Allen left it there. Ted Stevens never wanted the dog, a runt of the litter sled dog and gave it away. I ask you if someone gave you a puppy would you consider it an asset or an expense?

    Fourth: The government was reprimanded by the judge for withholding evidence and sending a whiteness home who had testimony helpful to Stevens, and there were many other odd issues in the case the defense alleged and other legal professionals agree were compelling grounds for a miss-trial.

    Fifth: Many People Judge Ted Stevens by his gruff and tough exterior. Ted Stevens could not have survived and done so much for his State and if he was not one of toughest leaders in Washington. Many people who do not know him see his strength and tough love as cruelty an selfishness. The overwhelming majority of people who have had the privilege of knowing Ted Stevens will be quick to tell you why he is anything but selfish and cruel? Tough and strong yes, but one of the most caring and compassionate people they have met.

    Come on let’s put emotion away and consider the merits of the case? Ted Stevens made a good and reasonable case. Study the facts, look at the credibility of the witnesses, Consider the possible agenda behind the prosecution, and impartial the jury really is, then place yourself in Ted Steven’s place for a moment would you feel your were guaranteed a fair trial?

  7. Allen – interesting. I wonder how has Stevens voting record been on the rights of the accused? (I don’t know, actually.) Has he criticized the SCOTUS for pandering to the accused or for reducing the government’s powers of prosecution? How did he vote in the Clinton impeachment trial? None of that changes his case, of course, but it does affect the sympathy that he might get.

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