WASHINGTON — The hospital where Douglas L. Hoffman serves on the finance committee sought and received a federal earmark — a practice he has opposed in his congressional campaign — to build a new primary health clinic.
Mr. Hoffman, the conservative candidate to replace Rep. John M. McHugh in Congress, was an ex-officio member of the finance committee at Adirondack Medical Center when the hospital asked Mr. McHugh to help find sources of federal money to build the facility two years ago.
However, Mr. Hoffman, who has made opposition to earmarks a pillar of his campaign mantra against government waste, said through a spokesman Tuesday night that it is "laughable" to suggest he would oppose government funding for such a project, and that his complaint is about the process by which such awards are made.
The Medical Center funding is additional evidence of the potential pitfalls of opposing all such projects added by lawmakers to spending bills. While obscure museums, the Jack Abramoff scandal and Alaska's infamous "bridge to nowhere" give earmarks a bad name, many such projects have helped build Fort Drum or enabled north country hospitals to provide better care in ways that might not have happened otherwise.
Mr. Hoffman sought in recent days to emphasize the negative, pointing to $2.6 billion that a Senate committee recently removed from military operations and maintenance to cover lawmakers' home-state military spending.
The hospital clinic is part of a larger project to consolidate some of the medical center's activities at its Tupper Lake campus. Specifically, the federal earmark is for a new medical office building that will include a health clinic. It replaces cramped facilities with limited privacy for patients, said Joe Riccio, a hospital spokesman.
The issue of Adirondack Medical Center's earmarks was raised in a general way by his GOP rival, Dierdre K. Scozzafava, during a forum that the two candidates — but not Democrat William L. Owens — attended earlier this month in Plattsburgh.
More specifically, however, the hospital received $479,000. Mr. McHugh requested the money, along with then-Rep. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrats of New York.
As is typical in the earmarks process, the hospital asked for more than that amount, Mr. Riccio said, although he could not say how much hospital officials sought.
Mr. Hoffman's spokesman Robert H. Ryan, said, "Doug Hoffman believes that primary health care is one of the most important things a community can offer its citizens."
He added, "Worthwhile projects should be debated as part of the regular budget process and be voted on out in the open, for all to see. This will end the culture of corruption that exists in Washington and stop the career politicians and their backroom deals."
Mr. Hoffman is treasurer and secretary of the Adirondack Medical Center Foundation, which gives him an ex-officio seat on the hospital's finance committee, Mr. Riccio said. He is also treasurer of the Adirondack Medical Center Foundation, which raises money for the hospital, but the foundation's work is unrelated to the federal earmark.
An account of the exchange with Ms. Scozzafava in the Plattsburgh Press-Republican does not indicate that Mr. Hoffman directly addressed projects at Adirondack Medical Center but he did say that fixing the whole health care system would do more to help hospitals than earmarks do.
As a general rule, congressional offices receive many such requests every year, and they are vetted by the staff before a request is made. But earmarks typically receive little other scrutiny, which is why critics call them a waste of taxpayers' money and an invitation to corruption.
On the defense-related earmarks, Mr. Hoffman's campaign cited lawmakers' decision this year to divert money from operations and maintenance — a basic warfighting account — to pay for defense-related items requested by specific lawmakers. Among the projects were $25 million for a World War II museum at the University of New Orleans and $20 million for an educational institute named after the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
Mr. Hoffman's campaign attacked those projects after the Watertown Daily Times reported that the candidate, by swearing off earmarks, would turn his back on a process that delivered more than $114 million to Fort Drum construction this decade, including soldier training facilities and improvements at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.
Mr. Hoffman's earmark pledge helped gain him the endorsement of the conservative Club for Growth, which has contributed around $95,000 to his campaign.