Hillary backed lab of donor; Watson gave to campaign
Lawmakers, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, have taken thousands in campaign cash from an embattled Nobel-prize winning scientist while earmarking federal money for his New York lab.
Mrs. Clinton and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, also a New York Democrat, requested a $900,000 earmark in June for the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where James D. Watson served as chancellor before resigning two weeks ago after apologizing for comments that suggested that people descending from Africa aren’t as intelligent as those from Europe.
Federal campaign filings show that Mr. Watson has donated more than $70,000 to candidates and their political causes, including a total of $3,000 to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign on May 17 and June 25. Two days later, a Senate committee report showed that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Schumer earmarked $900,000 for the lab.
The majority of Mr. Watson’s donations over the years have gone to Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, who has received more than $30,000 from the scientist, records show. Mr. Harkin is chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health, human services and education.
Phillippe Reines, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, yesterday referred all questions about the earmark to Mr. Harkin’s office but added that there was no connection between political donations and the earmark.
“One thing had nothing to do with the other,” he said.
Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign has returned nearly $1.3 million to hundreds of donors since July 1, including more than $800,000 tied to disgraced one-time fugitive Norman Hsu. The total figure is more than triple the returned donations for the rest of the Democratic field combined.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Harkin on Oct. 29 said the earmark is not likely to move ahead, partly because of the furor over Mr. Watson.
“There will be an overall reduction in earmarks from the Senate bill as we go to conference, and it was jointly decided by senators that in view of recent news, this project should not be included,” said Harkin spokeswoman Jennifer Mullin.
She said that Mr. Harkin has “historically been a supporter” of the lab but that political contributions played no part in the decision to earmark funds.
“The chairman’s support for spending in his bill is based on merit,” she said. “He has been particularly interested in the laboratory’s work investigating the probability of genetic predisposition toward cancer in women and the possible genetic underpinnings of autism.”
Messages left for Mr. Watson at the lab were not returned.
Mr. Watson won the Nobel prize in 1962 for co-discovering the structure of DNA. For nearly 40 years, he worked at the lab and helped transform it from a “small facility” into “one of the world’s great education and research institutions,” according to the lab’s announcement of Mr. Watson’s retirement two weeks ago.
Earlier this month, Mr. Watson told the Sunday Times that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.” He also told the London newspaper that although he believed in racial equality as a goal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”
Although he mostly supported Democrats, Mr. Watson gave $2,500 to the Republican Leadership Council in 2003 and $1,000 to the New York Republican Federal Campaign Committee. He also gave more than $8,000 to Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, New York Democrat, who helped secure a $1.5 million earmark for the lab last year.
The Senate earmark to the Cold Spring lab was directed for women’s cancer research. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Schumer made a similar $900,000 earmark for the lab in 2006.
This year’s earmark was one of 403 special-interest spending provisions that senators have inserted into the 2008 budget of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a federal agency charged with providing health care to the poor and uninsured.
Earmarks are a way for lawmakers to fund special-interest projects. Often referred to as “pork,” the practice has attracted criticism from government watchdog groups.
Leslie K. Paige, spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, said there’s nothing in the law that prevents beneficiaries of earmarks from donating campaign money to politicians responsible for funding the projects.
“It’s completely legal, but it can make taxpayers cynical,” she said.
Earmarks recently surfaced as an issue in the presidential election. A television ad by Republican Sen. John McCain chided Mrs. Clinton for earmarking $1 million for a museum in New York on the Woodstock concert, which the Senate later killed.
Among other HRSA earmarks, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania was responsible for 74 of the 403 Senate earmarks, although most were small grants — in the $100,000 range. Mr. Specter’s office declined to comment other than to forward a copy of a Senate speech earlier this month in which he states that “health is our No. 1 asset.”
Earlier this month, The Washington Times reported that senators have earmarked more than $40 million through HRSA to fund health care projects at universities and colleges they’ve attended.
But a recent program assessment by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Management and Budget has raised questions about past years’ congressional HRSA earmarks, which more than doubled from 451 in 2003 to 932 in 2005.
“Earmarked projects often serve local interests and do not fulfill national priorities or needs,” the assessment stated. “The HRSA earmarks awarded to universities or other research institutions are not based on scientific merit or any competitive process.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton