The Senate's King Of Pork - And Fish

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, may be under federal investigation in his home state of Alaska, but that hasn't interfered with his Washington job. He's still spending money like there's no tomorrow, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports. Not his money - yours.

How would Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense rank Stevens in terms of what kind of an earmarker he is?

"He's at the head of the pack," Ellis said. "His ability to bring home the bacon to Alaska is legendary and he doesn't make any bones about doing that."

Stevens gets his buying power from his staying power. With nearly four decades in the Senate, now at age 83, he's the longest-serving Republican senator in history.

Less than three months after the FBI searched his Alaska home in a bribery and public corruption probe, Stevens proved he hasn't lost an ounce of clout. He added an incredible $215 million in earmarks to the defense bill - more than any other senator.

An earmark is a grant of money without the normal public review. Thanks in large part to Stevens, sparsely populated Alaska outranks the rest of the nation - getting a disproportionate benefit when it comes to earmarks.

Texans get $98 per person worth of earmarks. New York's about the same. But when it comes to the Last Frontier state, so much federal money is pouring in to so few - it works out to more than $4,300 dollars per person.

What are some of the projects?

Well, it may not seem like a national priority, but more than $1 million has gone to try to create a market for salmon baby food: Alaska salmon baby food.

Stevens, known for funding Alaska's infamous "bridges to nowhere" is also behind what critics might call a "ferry to nowhere." He's earmarked $58 million so far to the ferry project that would serve a little-used port in Alaska.

Ever see a flying salmon? A jet was painted like a giant salmon with a half-million dollar grant from a non-profit group promoting Alaska seafood. Stevens steered tens of millions of dollars to the group - headed at the time by his own son Ben - from a federal fund to promote U.S. fish products.

The Senator wouldn't agree to talk to us, but his office told us: the baby food and salmon jet promote the Alaska seafood industry, which is in crisis, other states get similar earmarks for their industries, and that $58 million ferry will foster growth and create up to 200 jobs in Alaska.

The office also said that many Alaska earmarks are military-related and benefit the service members stationed there.

Read the response sent to CBS News by Sen. Ted Stevens' spokesman in response to questions before the story aired (Oct. 10, 2007)

Couric & Co. Blog: Why Alaska's Not Left Out In The Cold

Watch Attkisson's extended interview with Steve Ellis
Some members of Congress might say "we're just doing our job. We're supposed to bring home as much resources to our districts as we can," Attkisson said.

"Their job isn't to bring home every single thing that isn't bolted down here in Washington back to their home states," Ellis said.

Some would say that's what Stevens does best: turn federal dollars into pork - or fish - making the 49th state, No. 1 when it comes to those tantalizing earmarks.
  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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