Since both Palin and McCain have pointed to her opposition to earmarks as a key qualification, we have to ask exactly how committed that opposition is.
As mayor of Wasilla, however, Palin oversaw the hiring of Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh, an Anchorage-based law firm with close ties to Alaska's most senior Republicans: Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, who was indicted in July on charges of accepting illegal gifts. The Wasilla account was handled by the former chief of staff to Stevens, Steven W. Silver, who is a partner in the firm.
Palin was elected mayor of Wasilla in 1996 on a campaign theme of "a time for change." According to a review of congressional spending by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington, Wasilla did not receive any federal earmarks in the first few years of Palin's tenure.
Senate records show that Silver's firm began working for Palin in early 2000, just as federal money began flowing.
In fiscal 2000, Wasilla received a $1 million earmark, tucked into a transportation appropriations bill, for a rail and bus project in the town. And in the winter of 2000, Palin appeared before congressional appropriations committees to seek earmarks, according to a report in the Anchorage Daily News.
Palin and the Wasilla City Council increased Silver's fee from $24,000 to $36,000 a year by 2001, Senate records show.
Soon after, the city benefited from additional earmarks: $500,000 for a mental health center, $500,000 for the purchase of federal land and $450,000 to rehabilitate an agricultural processing facility. Then there was the $15 million rail project, intended to connect Wasilla with the town of Girdwood, where Stevens has a house.
In fiscal year 2002, Wasilla took in $6.1 million in earmarks -- about $1,000 in federal money for every resident. By contrast, Boise, Idaho -- which has more than 190,000 residents -- received $6.9 million in earmarks in fiscal 2008.
All told, Wasilla benefited from $26.9 million in earmarks in Palin's final four years in office.
In hiring Silver, Wasilla found someone who was a member of each lawmaker's inner circle. Silver has donated at least $11,400 to Stevens's political committees and $10,000 to Young's reelection committee in the past decade, according to Federal Election Commission records.