Inauspicious beginning: Anti-pork Tea-Party senator taps earmark lobbyist as chief of staff

If any Republican Senator-elect represents the anti-earmark fervor of the Tea Party year, it's Mike Lee of Utah. Lee knocked off appropriator and establishment-friend Bob Bennett in the GOP primary, and then easily won his election.

Lee pledged not to seek earmarks, and that was a big campaign issue. Also, I've often portrayed the GOP's intramural struggle as a battle between the K Street Wing and the Tea Party Wing, or Team Lott vs. Team DeMint.</p>

That makes it a bit unnerving that Lee's chief of staff will be an earmark lobbyist. The Salt Lake Tribune has the story on Spencer Stokes:

Stokes is currently registered to lobby for 18 organizations in the state, including the Utah League of Credit Unions; Management & Training Corp., a private prison company; and a number of energy interests, including utilities and the Utah Association of Energy Users.

On the federal level, Stokes has primarily lobbied for Weber County, Weber State University and a small defense contractor, Engineering and Software Systems Solutions, for which he focused on federal funding and earmarks.

Lee made a campaign promise to forgo any earmarks for his first year in office and has been highly critical of the practice in which lawmakers funnel federal money to pet projects back home.

Stokes said he talked to Lee about this before accepting the job.

“I completely understand his position, and I share it,” Stokes said. “There’s got to be some reform and I am hoping we can be leaders in that.”

Lee argued that Stokes’ knowledge of the federal appropriations process will help him push for change.

“When playing one side, it helps to know the other side and to have been there in the past,” he said.

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