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Originally published Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 3:00 PM

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Stimulus bill has money sought by lawmaker's son

House Republicans are questioning a section of the economic stimulus package that routes nearly $2 billion to national parks, saying the money could be a hidden pet project for the son of a powerful Democratic lawmaker.

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON —

House Republicans are questioning a section of the economic stimulus package that routes nearly $2 billion to national parks, saying the money could be a hidden pet project for the son of a powerful Democratic lawmaker.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Obey's son, Craig, does not lobby the committee, and the parks proposal came from the head of an environment subcommittee.

Craig Obey, a senior vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association, is a top lobbyist for the nonprofit group, which made public appeals for funds to repair and maintain national parks in the weeks before the House passed the bill Wednesday.

"It really does beg the question of, `Is this an earmark, is this a family connection and should it have been disclosed?'" said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa called for an investigation.

Questions about the younger Obey's role were first reported by The Washington Times.

Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for David Obey, said the repair idea came from Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on interior and the environment. "There's a tremendous backlog at the parks and we can address it while putting Americans to work," Brost said. "The only people who stand to benefit from this financially are the ones that will be put to work making the repairs."

Dicks' chief of staff, George Behan, said neither Obey nor anyone else needed to lobby the lawmaker on the issue.

"I will assure you this was the highest priority for Norm. This has been a passion of Norm's for many years," Behan said.

Craig Obey signed an e-mail letter to the conservation group's membership Wednesday hailing the House vote, which he called "great news for our economy and our national parks."

Tom Martin, executive vice president of the parks group, said the association does not lobby David Obey on parks appropriations issues. He said Craig Obey "is a terrific representative for restoring America's national parks."

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said Craig Obey may have made a mistake by signing the letter, "given the obvious potential for controversy," but said "the fact he wrote the letter doesn't mean he did the lobbying."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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