John McCain, Romney’s top surrogate, held a conference call with reporters Wednesday to discuss Newt Gingrich’s record on earmarks while Speaker of the House. McCain stressed that Gingrich saw earmarks as an election tool, encouraged them as a way to help members in reelection battles, and encouraged those in charge of appropriations to take elections into account when divvying up money. He referred to a 1996 memo as proof that this was an explicit Gingrich strategy.
Under Newt, “I saw earmarks explode,” McCain said, who served in the House with Gingrich before moving on to the Senate. Earmarks “dramatically expanded under Newt’s watch.”
Further, McCain hit on the common phrase that earmarks are the “gateway drug” to corruption, noting that Gingrich’s approach to earmarks is what got us the infamous ‘bridge to nowhere’ and “led directly” to the Abramoff scandal.
It cost taxpayers billions of dollars, McCain said. “I don’t think that with a $15 trillion debt, we can afford that.”