09.29.11

Tea Party Hypocrisy?

Despite his calls to shrink government and cut spending, Republican Allen West appealed to two federal agencies this summer for money, letters obtained by The Daily Beast show.

Freshman Rep. Allen West, a Tea Party favorite, electrifies the conservative base with his impassioned arguments to cut federal spending. Just last week, the Florida Republican was lamenting on Fox News the Obama administration’s decision to spend billions on green energy, declaring, “We  already have a question mark on some of these green energy programs,” and “That’s not the place where American taxpayer dollars should be.”

But letters obtained by The Daily Beast show West has appealed to two different agencies in his first months in office for federal largesse for renewable energy and transportation projects in his home state of Florida.

Last month, West wrote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking for funding under the Energy Department’s Sunshot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge, a program created by the Obama administration in the spring to “make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.”

West, writing with three other members from the Florida delegation, said the funding would “reduce fragmentation” and “upgrade the rooftop solar market” in Broward County, part of which is in Florida’s 22nd congressional district that West represents.

“If funded by the Department of Energy, this innovative program will benefit residents, small commercial establishments, the local economy, and environment for many years to come,” West and his colleagues wrote. “We are proud to support solar power as a smart choice for commercial and residential property owners, as well as the development of new and innovative strategies to reduce market barriers and costs.”

Upgrading the solar energy market in the area would bring considerable benefit to solar manufacturing and installation companies in the region. Some energy executives supported West in his election. For instance, employees at Hypower Inc., an energy and consulting company with its headquarters just outside of West’s district, donated $11,500 to West’s 2010 campaign. A spokesperson for the company was not immediately available for comment Thursday night.

West was not in office when Congress approved the 2009 American Recovery Act, which contained $987 billion in stimulus spending on infrastructure, education and health care. But while in office, he has publicly opposed the Obama’s administration’s policies of federal investments.

“When you hear people talk about investment coming out of Washington, D.C. that is so counter to what this country has really prospered on,” West said in a radio interview earlier this week on Florida’s 950 AM.

Yet less than three months earlier, West wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood seeking federal funds to improve a traffic corridor in West Palm Beach. West said that the funds were needed to improve the safety, flood readiness and the environmental landscape of the area known as North Flagler Drive. Like most of America, the region had been hard hit by budget cuts, but still enjoys one of the highest income rates per household, $49,660—nearly 25 percent higher than the national average. Residents of West Palm Beach collectively donated nearly $250,000 to West’s 2010 election campaign, nearly a third of all donations.

When confronted about the appeals for federal money he publicly opposed, West’s office said that the funding requests were consistent with the congressman’s stated positions.

“Congressman West will support competitive grant requests of merit on behalf of municipalities and local organizations from his congressional district,” spokeswoman Angela Sachitano said in a written statement. Sachitano also said that West consistently votes to reduce the size of government and she reaffirmed West’s frequent statement that “job creation comes from the private sector and not from spending more of the American taxpayers' money.”

West said the funding would “reduce fragmentation” and “upgrade the rooftop solar market” in Broward County.

West has been confronted before about his anti-government spending advocacy and the federal dollars spent in his home district. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that West had taken credit for a new runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The project was funded by a $21 million federal grant through the government’s Airport Improvement Program.

West, a former Army commander who led troops in Iraq before retiring in 2004, was swept to office in the Tea Party wave last year that gave Republicans the House majority. Despite being a junior member of Congress, West appears on national television often and has tangled with senior Democrats.

In one of the most high-profile episodes, he wrote a letter to Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, calling her the “most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives.” When pressed publicly by Democrats, he declined to offer an apology.