Tea party backed Republican candidates — indeed most Republican candidates — base their campaigns largely on opposition to President Obama’s agenda, and an imprecise pledge to reduce the federal deficit. Perhaps no single issue encapsulates that pledge better than the Democrats’ stimulus bill — one of the President’s signature initiatives that is, by design, a big deficit booster. Government can’t create jobs, they say, the stimulus wasted tax payer dollars, and simply bloated the federal government.
Scratch under the surface a bit, though, and these candidates’ opposition to government spending isn’t very deep at all — particularly when they benefit directly.
Ron Johnson, who claims “government doesn’t create jobs,” and who’s hoping to unseat Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), has perhaps the longest record of benefiting from government largesse.
In 1979 a company called Wisconsin Industrial Shipping Supplies, owned by Johnson’s brother-in-law, received a $75,000 development grant from the city of Oshkosh to build a rail spur to a plant it was building. One of the conditions of the grant required WISS to hire 11 people in exchange for the funds. Just a few months later, WISS became Pacur — the company Johnson owns today — and the factory was opened. The factory itself was also built with the help of a $1 million government-issued development bond.
Years later, as president of the board of the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh, Johnson would investigate the possibility of obtaining stimulus money to help pay for theater renovations.
According to the Northwestern, “no stimulus dollars went to the Grand repairs, but [the Grand] was able to secure $500,000 from the state building commission to help offset local costs for the project.” The entire cost of the project was $1.8 million.
Johnson has plenty of company in his private interest in government funds.
Joe Miller, the Tea Party-backed Republican Senate nominee in Alaska, who wants to end the “welfare state” received thousands of dollars in federal agriculture subsidies for land he owned in Kansas over a decade ago. He’s not alone: Washington candidate Clint Didier has collected more than $273,000 in federal farm subsidies since 1995. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has a stake in a family farm that received more than $250,000 in federal ag subsidies between 1995 and 2006.
There are other examples, too. As a State Assemblywoman, Sharron Angle’s job was a government job — and her husband, too, was on the federal government’s payroll and now collects a pension . And Rand Paul, who wants to “slash the size of government” also wants to end cuts to physicians’ pay by changing the formula Medicare uses to pay its doctors. Paul, an ophthalmologist, says half of his patients are Medicare patients — meaning a significant proportion of his income comes from the federal and state government, too. And multimillionaire Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott’s former company, Columbia/HCA, had to pay the feds $1.7 billion to settle charges that they overbilled state and federal authorities for health care services.
Of course, numerous elected Republicans have tried to take credit for jobs and projects created by the stimulus in their district — so this basic type of hypocrisy is nothing new. But Tea Party candidates are supposed to be a rejection of the status quo. In this way, at least, they are not.
[Ed. note: this post was edited after publication.]
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.