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Nevada Sen. John Ensign defends requests for stimulus money he opposed


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is defending his decision to seek stimulus money on behalf of constituents and Nevada government entities despite voting against the massive funding measure in February 2009.

The response came after documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity showed several instances where Ensign wrote letters in support of stimulus grant requests despite voting against the $787 billion funding bill.

Jennifer Cooper, press secretary to Ensign, said: “Nevada is at a great disadvantage when it comes to federal funds returning to our state. The stimulus bill passed, and Senator Ensign voted against it because it wasn’t the right way to repair our economy.

“That said, there is a pot of money that has been allocated to states to fund programs, and Senator Ensign fights to get Nevada its fair share,” Cooper said. “He advocated on behalf of these entities, at their request, for federal grants that would have otherwise gone to states that already receive the bulk of these funds.”

The Center for Public Integrity published an article identifying “scores” of Republicans and conservative Democrats who voted against the act and subsequently sent letters supporting requests for funds by private companies and public entities. The letters were sent to the Transportation, Energy and Commerce departments.

The article, titled “Stimulating Hypocrisy: Scores of Recovery Act Opponents Sought Money Out of Public View,” includes links to letters written by members of Congress.

Some have criticized the practice, including Rob Gaudet, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, who told the Center for Public Integrity: “The GOP should not be taking this money and spending it regardless of where it came from. They should be fighting against it with every fiber of their elected beings.”

Ensign called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act a “so-called” stimulus measure when he voted against it.

At the time of his vote, Ensign said in a press release: “Today’s vote is more of the same in Washington – spend, spend, spend. Government has a role to play, but the American people deserve a better effort than this. For Nevada, when you peel back a few layers, this bill is not as beneficial as it first looks, and it will ultimately increase taxes.”

But soon after, he was writing letters seeking those same funds on behalf of constituents.

In a letter dated June 15, 2009, Ensign wrote to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in support of a grant application by Altair Nanotechnologies for stimulus funding for its battery technology.

Ensign said the company’s proposal to expand battery production in Reno and Anderson, Indiana, would “directly and indirectly create or save over 330 jobs in locations which have unemployment rates considerably higher than the national average. In these difficult economic times, growing jobs in the United States is vital.”

In a later dated Sept. 10, 2009, Ensign wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood in support of an application by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada seeking stimulus funds for a rapid transit line.

“The ability to move the community’s two million residents and nearly 40 million visitors is critical to the economic health of the region and the state,” he said.

Ensign also sent letters this past summer in support of applications by the Nevada Hospital Association and the Lyon County School District seeking stimulus funding for broadband technology.

Documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity also includes correspondence from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.,  in support of several stimulus funding grant requests for public broadband projects. Reps. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., wrote letters in support of broadband projects as well.

All three representatives voted for the stimulus bill.

There were no letters from Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who also opposed the stimulus bill.

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