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Beneficiaries sometimes donated to legislators' campaigns

Reps. Mike Thompson and Lynn Woolsey brought home a combined $47 million for local projects this year, including money for private and nonprofit groups that contributed to their re-election campaigns, data from political watchdogs show.

The North Coast's two House members secured "earmarks" for 36 pet projects in fiscal 2008, a majority of which were run by public agencies for such things as flood control or research into agricultural pests.

But some of the funding extended to non-governmental outfits whose chief executives or political arms donated thousands of dollars to the lawmakers.

Woolsey, D-Petaluma, obtained a $470,000 earmark for San Rafael's Center Point Inc., a nonprofit health and rehabilitation center, according to data supplied by Washington-based Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Executives of the charity have given her more than $31,000 in individual campaign contributions over the past 11 years, including two donations last June from the CEO and a vice president worth $4,300, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, also based in Washington.

Thompson, D-St. Helena, secured $1 million for L-3 Communications Sonoma EO, a division of one of the country's largest military defense contractors with offices in Santa Rosa that is working on laser technology.

After that request was approved in the fall, Thompson got a check in February for $1,500 from the company's political action committee. Data show the PAC had given Thompson money at least one other time and company employees also have donated.

Federal watchdogs say the practice, while not necessarily improper, is helping to drive up the national debt, which stands at $9.5 trillion, while enforcing the notion that special interests control politicians.

"It's a tale we've heard all too often," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "There's no paperwork to document quid pro quo. This happened and then that happened. They may be related and they may not be. But here are the facts. And it's coming out of taxpayers' pockets."

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