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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama’s ‘Projector’ Earmark

Q: Did Obama request a $3 million ‘overhead projector,’ as McCain claimed?

A: Obama did seek a $3 million earmark, but it was not for the sort of ‘overhead projector’ commonly found in classrooms or offices. It would have replaced the Adler Planetarium’s projector, last upgraded in 1969.


Did Obama request a $3 million ‘overhead projector,’ as McCain claimed?

During the second presidential debate, Sen. John McCain accused Sen. Barack Obama of frivolous earmark requests:

McCain, Oct. 7: He voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork-barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?

We had other fish to fry that night. But the $3 million projector has sparked people’s interests, and we’ve gotten several questions about it. Was this another $600 toilet seat?

It’s true that Obama sought $3 million for a projector, and we’ll leave it to readers to judge whether it was frivolous or not. The fact is, however, that the technology Obama requested was not an "overhead projector" such as one might see in a classroom or office. Those typically cost no more than a few hundred dollars. What Obama sought was funding for a large and expensive piece of specialty equipment that projects the night sky in a dome theater, for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. For example, one model of an upgraded version of the Adler’s current projector has several separate projection units for the stars and for the sun, moon and planets. The projector weighs more than 5,000 pounds.

The Adler Planetarium replaced its projector for the first and last time almost 40 years ago. The planetarium issued a statement after Tuesday’s debate saying that it had approached Obama and other local congresspeople from both parties asking for government assistance in replacing the aging projector, on the grounds that "science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States." All agreed to help, according to the statement, but the money was not awarded.

–Jess Henig


Adler Planetarium. "Statement About Senator John McCain’s Comments at the Presidential Debate." 8 Oct. 2008.

Office of Sen. Barack Obama. "Obama Announces FY08 Federal Funding Requests." 21 Jun. 2007.