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Top U.S. Firms Target Congressional Donations

Sep. 29, 2012 - 02:02PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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The largest U.S. defense firms have contributed little money to the presidential contest, but the so-called “Big Five” have poured nearly $9 million into congressional races across the nation.

Lockheed Martin tops the list of givers, spending $2.1 million on congressional candidates, while Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was the top recipient of defense firms donations, receiving $206,500.

Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman have donated $9.2 million to candidates for national office. Overall, the contractors have donated $5.5 million to GOP congressional and presidential candidates and $3.7 million to Democratic candidates, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics (CFRP) and tabulated by Defense News. The totals cover January 2011 through August of this year.

But despite a bitterly contested presidential contest, only $448,291 has been donated to the campaigns of President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney, while $8.7 million has gone toward candidates for U.S. House and Senate seats, a sign of just how concerned defense companies are about the prospect of more budget cuts — and keeping their prized programs alive.

Of Lockheed’s $2.1 million in donations, $1.3 million went to GOP congressional hopefuls and $855,528 went to Democratic candidates.

Northrop, No. 2 on the list, gave a little more than $2 million to congressional candidates, with $1.2 million going to GOP campaigns and $881,267 going to Democrats.

Boeing came in third, donating $1.9 million to Capitol Hill candidates: $1.2 million to Republicans and $870,654 to Democrats.

Raytheon has given a hair under $1 million to GOP congressional candidates and nearly $597,000 to Democrats.

General Dynamics gave $645,322 to Republicans and $530,217 to Democrats.

The Big Five have several favorite targets when doling out campaign cash. Besides McKeon, the top Democrat on his committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., received $84,000 from the five companies.

Another favored target is the House speaker, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has picked up $71,900 from Lockheed, Northrop, Boeing and Raytheon. While General Dynamics has not donated to the House speaker, it has given thousands to other members of Ohio’s congressional delegation.

Several Pentagon and congressional observers said the Boehner donations are a result of a large defense-sector presence in the Buckeye State and because executives know the House speaker will play a big role in efforts to avoid a pending $500 billion, 10-year cut to planned national defense spending.

Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, locked in a tight and sometimes nasty race with Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren, has received $107,600 from the largest U.S. weapon makers. That places him among the biggest recipients.

But a closer examination of the CFRP data shows Raytheon has given Brown’s campaign $62,900 and General Dynamics has donated $27,700; Lockheed and Northrop make up the remainder with a combined $17,000.

Raytheon and General Dynamics have a large presence in the Bay State and view Brown as a key ally in keeping their missile, ship and other programs funded. It was not immediately clear from CFRP and Federal Election Commission (FEC) data how much the two companies have given to Warren.

Each company’s donations list is peppered with faces familiar to Pentagon and industry officials. Names like Reps. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., $45,000, and Norm Dicks, D-Wash., $40,500, the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, show up. So do Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., $48,750, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., $39,500, who chair their respective chambers’ Intelligence committees, a reflection of how defense companies have expanded their intel businesses since 9/11.

Notably, a tea party hero and onetime GOP presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, picked up $90,411 from the Big Five.

Also high on the list is Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who received $98,200. Defense-sector allies Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, received $60,500 and $43,150, respectively.

But with the majority of the companies’ donations going to politicians who have a big say over their biggest programs, critics question whether the donations sway lawmakers.

“Under the current system, it’s common for companies that are in businesses being overseen by congressional committees to contribute to the members of those panels,” said Viveca Novak, a CFRP spokeswoman. “Yes, it’s a ‘fox guarding the chicken coop’ sort of situation. That sounds like a cliche, except that it has real-life consequences — Congress protects a flawed weapons system, for instance, instead of deciding to put the money into something that would benefit more taxpayers.”

But Loren Thompson, chief operations officer of the Lexington Institute and an industry consultant, said the amount defense companies give to congressional candidates is a drop in the bucket compared with the billions in play with weapon contracts.

“Every big company that has a stake in government programs contributes money to political campaigns,” Thompson said. “What’s surprising is how modest the contributions are, given the billions of dollars in federal funding that are in play.”

So what is the upside for companies to send thousands to a single lawmaker with no certainty that individual will prop up their prized program?

“Of course, the money is intended to influence how politicians vote,” Thompson said. “But the Supreme Court has ruled” in the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC case “that such donations are constitutional, so the system isn’t going to change.” Ë

Email: jbennett@defensenews.com.

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