WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A watchdog group critical of pork barrel spending released its latest findings Wednesday targeting the top Congressional "porkers."
Some of the pork projects, according to the group, include a Lobster Institute; the Rocky Flats, Colorado, Cold War Museum; and the First Tee, a program to build young people's character through golf.
Members of Congress requested funds for all these pet projects and thousands of others last year, according to the latest copy of the annual "Pig Book" released by Citizens Against Government Waste.
"Congress stuffed 11,610 projects" worth $17.2 billion into a dozen spending bills, the group said in the report released Wednesday.
Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, requested the most money, $892.2 million, according to the group.
In a statement to CNN, Cochran said he doesn't "accept the premise" of the group's claim that "any and all federal spending not specifically requested by the Executive Branch is wasteful and irresponsible."
"The Congress is vested with the power to appropriate funds to be spent by the federal government by the U. S. Constitution. We will continue to carry out that responsibility with care and a commitment to serve the public interest," he said.
"There were several candidates for the Narcissist Award," Tom Schatz, the president of the group said. Read the group's 2008 report
"But this one went to House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel for the Charles Rangel Public Service Center at the City College of New York -- $1,950,000 [for a project] that he named after himself."
Rangel, a Democrat from New York, said last summer he was "honored that City College chose to have my name attached to what is an important project, not just for the residents of my congressional district, but for New York City and this nation."
Some lawmakers defended their earmarks, such as Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, who channeled $742,764 to olive fruit fly research.
"The olive fruit fly has infested thousands of California olive groves and is the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries," he said.
Schatz responded that his organization is criticizing the way lawmakers direct money to specific projects, not the projects themselves.
"There are existing programs for virtually everything in the 'Pig Book.' If members [of Congress] believe they should be given additional funding, give them to the agencies rather than to specific projects," he said.
The problem with earmarks, he said, is that "we don't know if [the projects] are valuable or not."
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, the third ranking Democrat in the House, defended his earmark for a program that funds a youth golf program for children on U.S. military bases.
"It's a character building program, that seems to be working well for low income kids and that's why we do it throughout the United States of America. I just feel that children living on military installations ought to have this program as well," Clyburn told CNN.
Clyburn also defended the practice of earmarking federal funds.
"I can name earmark after earmark, there's absolutely nothing wrong with congresspeople responding to their constituents and funding programs that they feel are necessary to improve the quality of life of the people who live in their districts."
Clyburn also raised questions about the group releasing the "Pig Book" saying, "they're not telling the truth about this earmark no more than them telling the truth about where they get their money from. The committee against government waste isn't against government waste."
He cited press reports from the St. Petersburg Times that the Committee Against Government Waste received money from the tobacco industry and other private groups to lobby Congress.
The Democrats were behind 5,199 projects worth $5.5 billion, while the Republicans earmarked 3,408 projects worth $4.4 billion, the citizen's group said.
And in a sign bipartisanship is not dead, the two parties jointly backed 2,518 projects worth $3.8 billion. Interactive: Map of pork per capita by state »
The three senators running for president were not among the top targets of criticism, and one got an entirely clean bill from the watchdog group.
"Sen. [Barack] Obama had 53 earmarks worth $97 million dollars, and Sen. [Hillary] Clinton had 281 earmarks worth $296 million. Sen. Obama recently said he would not request any project for this upcoming fiscal year," said Tom Schatz, the president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
"And of course Sen. [John] McCain has never requested them and he won't be doing so in 2009. So now the question is if Sen. Clinton will join the other major candidates in saying that she will not request any earmarks for 2009."
To qualify for the Pig Book, a project must meet at least one of these standards: it was requested by only one chamber of Congress; was not specifically authorized; was not competitively awarded; was not requested by the president; greatly exceeded the president's budget request or the previous year's funding; was not the subject of congressional hearings; or served only a local or special interests. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Ed Hornick and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.
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