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Tools of Influence: The Arms Lobby and the Super Committee

October 31, 2011 | Policy Brief

By William D. Hartung

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Tools of Influence: The Arms Lobby and the Super Committee

 

By William D. Hartung

October 2011

Summary of Findings:

The defense industry has a major stake in the deliberations of the budget super committee, which is empowered to propose reductions in military spending. The tools of influence that the arms lobby can bring to bear on the super committee are impressive:

  • In 2010 alone, the defense industry spent $144 million on lobbying.
     
  • The industry employs over 1,000 lobbyists, nearly two for every member of Congress.
     
  • The industry contributed $22.6 million to political candidates in the 2009/2010 election cycle alone.
     
  • In the two most recent election cycles, the defense industry contributed over $1.1 million to the 12 members of the budget super committee.
     
  • Five former super committee staffers now serve as lobbyists for at least one of the nation’s top ten defense contractors, representing companies like Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. The industry as a whole employs 22 lobbyists who are former staffers of super committee members.
     
  • The arms industry’s greatest ally is House Armed Services Committee chair Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, who has received over three quarters of a million dollars from the defense industry between 2009 and 2011.

Introduction: Contractors Cash In

The 2000s have been good years to be a Pentagon contractor. While military spending almost doubled between 2001 and 2010, Department of Defense (DoD) contracts have grown at an even a faster pace. Total DoD contracts increased more than two and one-half times during the decade, from $144 billion in FY 2001 to nearly $400 billion in FY 2010.i

More than one out of every five dollars distributed by the Pentagon in FY2010 went to just five companies: Lockheed Martin ($29.1 billion); Boeing ($18.0 billion); Northrop Grumman ($15.6 billion); General Dynamics ($14.6 billion); and Raytheon ($14.5 billion).ii

These companies are pooling their resources – working through vehicles such as their trade group, the Aerospace Industries Association – in an attempt to keep Pentagon spending as high as possible in the face of pressures to reduce the federal deficit.iii Their most immediate goal is to keep defense spending out of the super committee’s deficit reduction proposal.

Tools of Influence: Gearing Up the Lobbying Machine

The arms industry spends liberally to influence Congress and the executive branch. The defense industry donated over $22.6 million to congressional candidates in 2009/2010, the most recent election cycle for which full data are available. Lobbying expenditures by the defense sector totaled $144 million for 2010 alone. The industry employs more than 1,000 lobbyists – nearly two lobbyists for every member of Congress. And it had at least 682 “revolving door” employees in 2010 – people who had worked in government overseeing the arms industry before leaving government to work for a defense firm.iv This lobbying machine is being put to work in efforts to influence the budget super committee.

Campaign Contributions to Super Committee Members

Defense companies have donated over $1.1 million to members of the congressional super committee in the past two election cycles.v The top recipient was super committee co-chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who received $247,500 in direct campaign contributions from Pentagon contractors between 2007 and 2011, the most recent election cycle for the U.S. Senate.vi The top recipient among House members on the super committee was Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), with $112,300 in campaign donations from the defense industry from 2009 to 2011. These figures are even higher once contributions to each member’s leadership PAC are taken into account. A leadership PAC is a Political Action Committee that collects funds that the member of Congress can then use to make donations to the campaigns of other members of Congress. Leadership PACs help members gain influence and cement relationships with their colleagues, a tool that can be helpful when seeking support for particular initiatives, or in votes for leadership positions within the Congress. Details on contributions to each super committee member are displayed in Graphs I and II.

Source: Calculated by the author based on data in the Center for Responsive Politics’ “Open Secrets” database. Campaign contribution numbers include both company political action committee (PACs) contributions and donations by individuals associated with the companies. Figures cover the bulk of the current election cycle for the Senate, which runs from 2007 through 2012. For further details see Appendix table one.
 

 

Source for Graph II: See Graph I. The period covered includes the last full election cycle for the House of Representatives (2009/2010), plus the current cycle (2011/2012), which has yet to be completed. For further details see Appendix table two.
 

Major defense contractors have continued to make contributions to super committee members. In the period from August 20th to September 20th, Lockheed Martin donated to more super committee members than any other company or interest group.vii

Through the Revolving Door

Five former super committee staffers now work as lobbyists for one of the top ten defense companies (see Table I). One of them – Shay Michael Hancock – works on behalf of three of the top ten contractors (Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon). And this is just part of the story. A Washington Post investigation of the industry as a whole – not just lobbyists affiliated with the top ten contractors -- found that 22 ex-super committee staffers are lobbyists for the defense industry.viii


Former Staffers of Super Committee Members Working as Defense Industry Lobbyists

Company Lobbyist Lobbying Firm Former Employer
Boeing Shay Michael Hancock Denny Miller and Associates Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
  Heather Meade Ernst and Young Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
General Dynamics Shay Michael Hancock Denny Miller and Associates Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
  Aranthan Jones Podesta Group Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC)
Lockheed Martin Carrie E. Desmond, In-house lobbyist Lockheed Martin Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Raytheon Shay Michael Hancock Denny Miller and Associates Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
United Technologies Arshi Siddiqui Akin Gump, et. al. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)

Source for Table I: Compiled by the author from data supplied on the Center for Responsive Politics’ “Open Secrets” web site; and data on the top ten defense contractors from the Federal Procurement Data Center.


Beyond the Super Committee: “Buck” to the Rescue?

Whatever cuts result from the super committee process, the issue of how much to spend on the Pentagon will continue to be fought out in Congress. This is true for several reasons. First, any cuts decided upon by the super committee will not take effect until 2013, leaving plenty of time for Congress to revisit its decisions. Second, if automatic cuts in Pentagon spending are triggered by a failure of the super committee to meet its deficit targets, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other members of Congress have pledged to roll them back by promoting new legislation.

The bottom line is that the super committee is just one step in an ongoing process of considering how much to spend on defense over the next decade.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) is the arms industry’s most forceful advocate in the battle to bolster the Pentagon budget. He is the largest recipient of defense industry campaign contributions in the Congress, receiving over three quarters of a million dollars from 2009 through 2011, including $590,000 to his campaign fund and $191,000 to his leadership PAC. He has numerous defense plants in his district, including Lockheed Martin’s famous “Skunk Works” research facility, as well as factories and research sites operated by Boeing, General Atomics (the maker of the Predator and Reaper drones), and Northrop Grumman. And he is the chair of the congressional Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Caucus.

McKeon is a central player in the defense spending debate. He has held hearings on the need for high Pentagon budgets; spoken out in public forums and the media, allying himself with conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation; and met behind the scenes with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the chief lobbyists for contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics. His message to arms makers has been to focus their energies on fighting for the highest possible Pentagon budgets, not on competing over specific programs.ix The success of this campaign will depend not just on unity within the arms lobby, but on whether it is able to use its money and connections to drown out other voices in the defense debate.

When he gave his famous military-industrial complex speech in January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower asserted that the only effective counter to the power of the complex was “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.” The budget debates of these next few years will put that proposition to the test.

Endnotes & Appendices

i. Data on Pentagon contracts comes from the Federal Procurement Data Center and Fedspending.org. The figure for total defense contracts is projected from the FY2008 figure of $390 billion, as reported by Fedspending.org.

ii. Ibid.

iii. See for example, the Aerospace Industries Association’s “Second to None” campaign, described in part on the campaign’s web site, http://secondtonone.org.

iv. Data on campaign spending and lobbying are from the “Open Secrets” web site of the Center for Responsive Politics.

v. Data in this section covers the two most recent election cycles for the House of Representatives, 2009/2010 and 2011/2012; and the most recent cycle for the Senate, 2007 through 2012.

vi. Campaign spending figures are from the Center for Responsive Politics, and included spending reports filed through September 27, 2011. The $1.1 million figure includes contributions from political action committees (PACs), individuals associated with defense companies, and donations to leadership PACs, which serve as a vehicle for building a political base by enabling a senator or representative to make contributions to other candidates for office.

vii. Bill Allison, “Big PACs Contribute $83,000 to Super Committee Members,” Sunlight Foundation, October 6, 2011.

viii. “The Super Committee’s K Street Connections,” graphic, Washington Post, September 2, 2011; and Dan Eggen, “Members of Panel Have Ties to Lobbyists,” Washington Post, September 5, 2011.

ix. Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, “Buck McKeon Makes the Case for Defense to Supercommittee Leaders,” Politico, October 5, 2011.

Appendix - Tables for graphs I and II

Table I: Defense Industry Contributions to Senators Serving on the Congressional Super Committee 2007-2011

Member $ to Campaign Committee $ to Leadership PAC
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) $247,500 $29,000
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) $91,600 $52,500
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) $38,500 $37,500
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) $70,700  
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) $7,500 $24,500
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) $17,800  


Source: Calculated by the author based on data in the Center for Responsive Politics’ “Open Secrets” database. Campaign contribution numbers include both company political action committee (PACs) contributions and donations by individuals associated with the companies. Figures cover the bulk of the current election cycle for the Senate, which runs from 2007 through 2012.

Table II:

Defense Industry Contributions to Representatives Serving on the Congressional Super Committee FY2009-FY2011

Member $ to Campaign Committee $ to Leadership PAC
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) $112,300 $85,300
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) $69,400 $27,500
Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) $63,300 $31,500
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) $31,000 $6,000
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) $33,500  
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) $16,000  

Source for Apendix Table II: See Appendix Table I. The period covered includes the last full election cycle for the House of Representatives (2009/2010), plus the current cycle (2011/2012), which has yet to be completed.

 

A joint publication of the Center for International Policy and Common Cause

 

 

 

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