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Election Preview: Northern Ky.’s 4th Congressional District

By Halimah Abdullah – habdulla@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON — The contest in Northern Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District pits a well-funded, conservative incumbent against a little-known, considerably more progressive Iraq War veteran.

U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Hebron, seems to be sailing toward a fourth term with $1.1 million raised as of the June campaign finance filing deadline. Much of that money was donated by health professionals and the insurance industry.

Meanwhile, Democratic challenger John Waltz, a political newcomer from Florence, raised roughly $250,000 during the same period.

Waltz was inspired to run for the congressional seat, he said, after he received no help from Davis’ office in seeking veteran’s health benefits.

Kentucky tsks, but takes federal funds

By John Cheves – jcheves@herald-leader.com

CARROLLTON — Shortly before Christmas, U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis called for fiscal conservatism while voting against a successful $154 billion extension of the economic stimulus package that paid for schools, roads, unemployment benefits and other items.

These “unsustainable policies rely on excessive spending, endless debt and the promise of increased taxes,” Davis, R-Hebron, warned.

The same day, Davis announced that he helped get more than $1 million for the Carroll County School District to expand its Head Start program for poor children. The money came from the stimulus he had just denounced.

“In these difficult economic times, it is critical to ensure that vulnerable populations in Kentucky have access to important support services,” Davis said of the Head Start funding. “I am pleased that our office was able to assist.”

This contradiction — criticizing the spendthrift habits of “big government” while bringing a big slice of that federal money back home — is central to Kentucky politics.

Watching how Congress spends our money

U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green

Updated March 4, 1:30 p.m.

By John Cheves – jcheves@herald-leader.com

A new online database lets the public study how members of Congress spend their office budgets for staff salaries, rent, food and drink, subscriptions and other expenses.

The database was prepared by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington, D.C., that works to make the federal government more transparent.

Currently, the data is limited to the House. The Senate is not expected to make its spending information available until next year at the earliest.

The data covers the third and fourth quarters of 2009, with one set providing spending summaries for each member of Congress (for example, summarizing all pay in one office as “personal compensation”) and another set providing details (giving the names and pay amounts for individual employees).

To test-drive the database, the Herald-Leader checked Kentucky’s six-member House delegation for its spending on “franking,” a valuable perk that allows members of Congress to mail letters and packages under the members’ signature without paying for postage.

(Updated: A sharp-eyed Bluegrass Politics reader noticed that the database lumps the quarters together cumulatively over time, so the fourth quarter 2009 column includes all the money from the third quarter 2009 column, plus the next three months of spending. That means the numbers originally listed below were higher than they should have been. They’re now corrected.)

In 2009, according to the database, freshman Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, spent $135,685 on franking — far more than the rest of the delegation combined.

Bunning, Davis get $3.9 million earmark for donor

By John Cheves – jcheves@herald-leader.com

U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning and U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis earmarked $3.92 million in the defense spending bill signed into law Dec. 19 for American Freedom Fuels, a Lexington company owned by Robert Addington, who is also a major campaign donor.

Addington, who with his brothers founded and ran several large coal companies, has given about $35,000 in combined political donations since 2005 to Bunning and Davis, both Kentucky Republicans.

The earmark is just a small slice of the $636 billion defense spending bill, which included several billion dollars in pet projects added by members of Congress. Bunning alone sponsored or co-sponsored more than $32 million in earmarks, including this one.

In an interview, Addington said American Freedom Fuels will use the funds to further its research into “coal gasification,” or the process that breaks down coal into its basic chemical components to turn into fuel, a cleaner process than just burning the coal.