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Public Statements - Clyburn Defends Funding for Golf $3 Million in Defense Bill Will Finance Program for Kids in Military Families

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Location: Washington, DC - Clyburn Defends Funding for Golf $3 Million in Defense Bill Will Finance Program for Kids in Military Families

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn responded angrily Friday to claims he inappropriately steered military money to a Columbia golf center bearing his name.

Republicans in Washington and South Carolina criticized Clyburn on Thursday for adding $3 million onto a defense-spending bill for a national nonprofit group with ties to Columbia's James E. Clyburn Golf Center, off Two Notch Road.

Clyburn, the House majority whip, defended his actions Friday. He said the money — for a golf program that teaches values to low-income kids — would be used only on military bases to help the children of men and women in uniform.

"Nobody is earmarking anything for a civilian facility in Columbia or for such a facility anywhere in the United States of America," Clyburn said in an interview. "It might be for a (U.S.) military installation in Japan."

Clyburn inserted the money for the First Tee, a Florida-based organization that uses golf to "teach life lessons" to children 8-18, into the defense bill during a conference committee of senators and representatives that produced the final Pentagon budget measure.

Republicans seized on the money to claim Clyburn was using defense money for a personal cause.

"It is extremely disturbing to see Jim Clyburn divert national-defense funds to his own golf facility while he refuses to equip our troops with the resources needed to win the war on terror," said Katon Dawson, chairman of the S.C. Republican Party.

The National Republican Congressional Committee accused Clyburn and other Democratic leaders of breaking campaign promises to bring more transparency to how Congress spends money.

Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat and an avid golfer, branded as "an unmitigated lie" Dawson's claim he was channeling federal money to his hometown golf center, named for him in August.

Clyburn earlier responded to Republicans' charges in a blistering speech on the House floor.

"Not one dime of this request will go to any civilian facility in South Carolina or anywhere else in the United States of America," Clyburn said. "Every single dime of this is to be spent on defense facilities to the benefit of those children whose mothers and fathers are off defending our way of life."

Clyburn said the money will go to Shaw Air Force Base, Charleston Air Force Base and other S.C. military installations and beyond.

Kristie Greco, a Clyburn aide, said, "It is the intent of Congress to direct these funds to military families."

Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican who has led an effort to end congressional "earmarks" of federal money for specific projects, said the First Tee is a worthy organization. But, he said, the Pentagon's budget bill is the wrong place to fund it.

"First Tee provides positive experiences for children, and I would happily help Congressman Clyburn encourage private donations for the charity," DeMint said. "However, this earmark takes millions of dollars from a defense bill that directly supports our troops in the field."

In a rare exchange of pique within the S.C. delegation, Clyburn took DeMint to task.

"Jim DeMint is forever misrepresenting what my intentions are," Clyburn said.

The bitter dispute shows the increased scrutiny of the 67-year-old Clyburn since Democrats gained control of Congress a year ago and he assumed the No. 3 House post.

A First Tee chapter is at the Clyburn Golf Center, and the same man runs both the chapter and the center.

The center is owned by the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. Clyburn spoke at the center when it was named for him in August. A life-sized statue of Clyburn stands before its entrance.

Steve Ellis, head of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said First Tee's well-heeled sponsors include the Professional Golfers Association and large corporations such as Wal-Mart and Shell Oil.

"It's not that this isn't a laudable program, but that's true of many earmarks," Ellis said. "But these (sponsors) are companies with deep pockets. The question is: Should the taxpayer be spending $3 million on this program?"

Clyburn's earmark for First Tee was one of 10 added to the fiscal 2008 defense spending bill during the conference committee session that produced a $460 billion measure Tuesday.

The House passed the spending bill by a 400-15 vote Thursday, with all six S.C. members supporting it. The measure now moves to the Senate for action.

DeMint and other earmark foes tried unsuccessfully to persuade the House and Senate to ban the practice of adding earmarks in conference committees.

Clyburn released an Oct. 17 letter he wrote to Rep. David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, requesting $3 million for First Tee. "The funding would be used to provide character education at military schools and recreational facilities," Clyburn wrote.

Clyburn said Friday he had to add the money to the defense spending bill in the conference committee because "it didn't make the cut" earlier.

Rosen covers Washington for McClatchy Newspapers in South Carolina.

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