In a letter June 17, 2004, to the transportation panel's chief of staff that was obtained by the Associated Press, Grabauskas said federal money for the Longfellow Bridge could be provided as part of the "bridge program, a new megaproject or an outside earmark, or a combination of the three." Grabauskas did not immediately respond to phone messages from AP seeking comment.
A Romney campaign spokeswoman would not respond to questions about how many earmarks the Romney administration asked for, and the sums and projects involved. "Every state budget in the country is dependent on federal funding, and every governor in the country makes requests for funding, but governors do not get to decide how Congress appropriates money," said Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman. "Gov. Romney supports a permanent ban on earmarks, which are symbols of what's wrong with Washington."
When Romney was governor and his state needed money to fix crumbling roads and bridges, his administration suggested earmarks for projects to lawmakers on Capitol Hill who were in a position to request the money.
His aides specified projects they wanted included as earmarks in the transportation bill to members of the state's congressional delegation as the measure moved through Congress, said U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.).
"The Romney administration was crystal clear on earmarks and what they wanted," McGovern said. "They sent us a letter specifically asking for money to be earmarked for projects."
McGovern cited a Feb. 7, 2005, e-mail from Tom Lawler, Romney's deputy director of state-federal relations in Washington, to a senior McGovern aide seeking $50 million for the Charles M. Braga Bridge between Somerset and Fall River, and $25 million for an interstate highway interchange in the Worcester Democrat's district.
The Romney aide wrote in the e-mail that the projects were "the state's suggested high priority projects" for McGovern's district.
The term "high priority project" is congressional jargon for an earmarked project, said McGovern, who did not pursue earmarks for Romney's suggested projects.
U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (D., Mass.), the delegation's leader on securing money for bridges and roads, said he, too, was approached by Romney aides about earmarks.
"It was a routine thing," Capuano said. "They came to me and said, 'Here's what we need.' They didn't do a ton of [asking for earmarks], but they did enough of it."
Capuano said he supported the Longfellow Bridge project and secured $3 million for it.
Massachusetts badly needed aid for road and bridge repairs because for years, federal transportation dollars had been sucked up by the Big Dig project that put I-93 in tunnels under Boston.
Besides its liaison office in Washington, the state paid lobbyists O'Neill & Associates, headed by the son of former House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, to seek federal dollars.
More recently Romney and his allies have called presidential rivals Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, "prolific earmarkers."
In the last, 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."
In a Fox News interview on Thursday, Romney said it was "troubling" that Santorum had been "a defender of earmarks. Look, I'm in favor of a ban on earmarks."
For its part, the Santorum campaign has highlighted a 2006 radio interview in which Romney said of the Big Dig: "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 into spending bills. After the 2010 elections, Congress put a moratorium on earmarking, following uproar over a 2005 bill stuffed with money for such projects as Alaska's infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."