Romney joined the state's big construction companies and contractors at a big Boston fundraising event in 2003 honoring Rep. Don Young, the Alaska Republican who at the time was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and who held powerful sway on spending matters as the big transportation bill moved through Congress. Young netted more than $50,000, according to a Boston Globe story at the time.
During his campaign, Romney plays up his anti-earmark views to try to convince GOP voters of his conservative values and to try to undermine his rivals' claims of fiscal conservatism. Earmarks are a hot issue in the GOP race, particularly among conservatives angry about runaway spending and the big federal budget deficits.
Romney's campaign and his allies have hammered rivals Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker, and Rick Santorum, a former representative and senator from Pennsylvania, as "prolific earmarkers" winning federal money, and he has called for a permanent ban on earmarks.
Romney stepped up his attacks after losses to Santorum in in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri, branding Santorum as a big-spending Washington insider.
"A lot of us feel that the Republican Party lost its way in the past," Romney said Wednesday. "Republicans spent too much money, borrowed too much money, earmarked too much, and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have to be held accountable."
"Obviously, some of the things of his record are troubling ... The fact that while he was in Washington, government spending grew by 80 percent. And the fact that he is a defender of earmarks. Look, I'm in favor of a ban on earmarks," Romney said of Santorum in a Fox News Channel interview on Thursday.
The Santorum campaign, jabbing at Romney's past support for federal spending, has highlighted a 2006 radio interview with Romney about the Big Dig where he said: "I'd be embarrassed if I didn't always ask for federal money whenever I get the chance."
Earmarking is the longtime Washington practice in which lawmakers, often at the request of governors and state legislators, insert money for home-state projects such as road and bridge work into spending bills. After the 2010 elections, Congress placed a moratorium on earmarking, following public outrage over a 2005 transportation bill stuffed with money for thousands of pet projects, including the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska.
Romney now has joined the chorus of tea party backers and fiscal conservatives who say lawmakers treat taxpayer money like a slush fund.
A pro-Romney group targeted Santorum with ads in recent primary contests assailing his support for pork-barrel spending in Congress. The Romney campaign has used a small group of House Republicans considered fiscal conservatives to attack Gingrich's earmarking.