WASHINGTON — After seeking millions of dollars from a stimulus spending program he had publicly opposed as wasteful, GOP vice presidential candidate and congressman Paul Ryan repeatedly denied making the requests, first on a Boston radio station in 2010 and again Wednesday in a television interview.
Audio from 2010 provided Thursday by WBZ indicates that Ryan, responding to a caller, said that he would not vote against something and “then write to the government to ask them to send us money.” He added: “I did not request any stimulus money.”
He repeated that response this week in an interview with Cincinnati’s WCPO-TV. “No, I never asked for stimulus,” he said, adding, “I don’t recall.”
But Thursday evening, Ryan acknowledged having sent the letters above his signature. “After having these letters called to my attention I checked into them, and they were treated as constituent service requests in the same way matters involving Social Security or Veterans Affairs are handled. This is why I didn’t recall the letters earlier. But they should have been handled differently, and I take responsibility for that.”
Four letters, which the Globe reported on earlier this week, were penned by Ryan to the US Department of Energy seeking grants under the Obama administration’s economic recovery package. The funds were for conservation and green energy projects, and one of the organizations was later granted $20 million.
Ryan’s explanation that he saw the request for money as a form of constituent services is unusual, said Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense. Ellis said a $20 million grant is considerably larger than a traditional constituent service request, such as helping an individual cut through bureaucratic red tape to get Social Security or veterans benefits.
“Those are different than getting assistance for a company in the district and getting $20 million,” he said.
But Ellis said a bigger question is why Ryan signed the letters if he didn’t know what they were requesting and why.
“One would hope that lawmakers are engaged when they are asking the federal government for money,” he said. “Due diligence is required on something they are affixing their signature to.”
Ryan, who was selected Saturday to be former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s running mate, was one of the most vocal critics of President Obama’s stimulus spending plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion package of government investment designed to bolster the economy in the midst of a deepening recession.
In voting against it, Ryan called the legislation a “wasteful spending spree” and warned that it would not provide the right kind of help, instead advocating more tax cuts.
“This trillion dollar spending bill misses the mark on all counts,” Ryan said in a statement at the time issued by his office. “This is not a crisis we can spend and borrow our way out of — that is how we got here in the first place.”
But beginning in the fall of 2009, he sent the first of a series of letters to the Department of Energy on behalf of a pair of Wisconsin energy conservation groups, insisting the funds would help create jobs, the Globe reported on Tuesday.
For example, Ryan predicted that a grant being sought by the Madison-based Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation would “create or retain approximately 7,600 new jobs over the three-year grant period and the subsequent three years.”
The letter continued: “I was pleased that the primary objectives of their project will allow residents and businesses in the partner cities to reduce their energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stimulate the local economy by creating new jobs.”
The organization ultimately received $20 million in economic stimulus funds, while another entity that he advocated for, the Energy Center of Wisconsin, was awarded a separate $740,000, according to federal records.
Asked Monday about the letters to the Department of Energy, Ryan’s spokesman declined to comment and pointed the Globe to a statement from Ryan’s Capitol Hill office from 2010 when the Wall Street Journal reported he had written a single letter to the Department of Labor seeking stimulus funds.
“If Congressman Ryan is asked to help a Wisconsin entity applying for existing federal grant funds, he does not believe flawed policy should get in the way of doing his job and providing a legitimate constituent service to his employers,” the 2010 statement said.
But that did not prevent him from continuing his public attacks on the stimulus bill.
“All this temporary booster shot stimulus didn’t work in the stimulus package, didn’t work when the last administration tried these things, so we don’t want to go with ideas that have proven to fail, we want ideas that have proven to succeed,” he said in an interview on MSNBC in September 2011. “I think tax reform is the key.”
Even when asked about any appeals he made for stimulus funds by the caller on WBZ in 2010, he stuck to his guns.
“I assume you voted against the stimulus,” the caller, identifying himelf as Joe from Stoughton, began, “and I’m just curious if you accepted any money in your district.”
“No, I’m not one [of those] people who votes for something then writes to the government to ask them to send us money. I did not request any stimulus money,” Ryan responded.
In the interview with the Cincinnati television station Tuesday, Ryan reiterated why he opposed the stimulus bill. “I opposed the stimulus because it doesn’t work, it didn’t work,” he said. “It brought us deeper into debt. It was about $1.1 trillion when you add the borrowing cost, it put us deeper in debt and further out of work.”
Ryan has been on WBZ’s “Nightside’’ with Dan Rea several times in recent years. It was during the same 2010 interview when Ryan denied seeking stimulus funds that Rea also predicted that the then-4o-year-old congressman would be the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2012.
Bryan Bender can be reached at email@example.com.