By Roxana Tiron - 07/22/10 12:21 AM EDT
The country’s largest defense-industry interests are on track in 2010 to make record-level campaign contributions as lawmakers enter the home stretch of an intense midterm election season.
The increase in donations from political action committees (PACs) associated with defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co. comes at a time of growing anxiety in the industry over the future of defense spending.
The Pentagon is tightening its belt, and some congressional leaders have called for cuts in defense spending to reduce the deficit. Industry insiders say defense companies and their affiliated interests will fight to preserve their contracts and bottom lines. That, in many cases, means seeking support for current spending levels from members of Congress, who hold the power of the purse.
Jeff Adams, Lockheed’s director of news and information, said the increase in PAC contributions could be attributed to an increase in membership and individual giving. Adams noted that people join and donate to the PAC of their own volition.
The PAC of the Boeing Co., which has both significant commercial aerospace and Pentagon business, has so far contributed $2,197,000 to lawmakers and party committees — close to $300,000 more than it spent in the 2008 election, according to data compiled from the Center for Responsive Politics and CQ MoneyLine. In 2004, the Boeing PAC doled out $1,220,330, compared to $725,426 in the 2000 election cycle.
Both the Lockheed and Boeing PACs have maxed out contributions to several lawmakers, as well as to party committees.
Lockheed’s PAC has maxed out its contributions to Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who is facing a tougher reelection fight than usual; Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Armed Service’s ranking member; Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), a new member of the House Appropriations Committee; Bill Young (Fla.), the top Republican defense appropriator; and Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), who is running for the Senate. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also received maximum contributions.
Boeing’s PAC made the maximum $10,000 in contributions to Reps. Todd Akin (R-Mo.); John Boehner (R-Ohio,) the House minority leader; James Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip; and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) received $10,000 for his Senate run, as did Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).
Lockheed Martin and Boeing have some of the highest-profile defense contracts with the Pentagon. Lockheed is the maker of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — a program that has been restructured because of cost increases and delays. But Lockheed has also looked to Congress to bolster contracts for the C-130J cargo aircraft and C-5 Galaxy cargo planes.
Meanwhile, Boeing has been engaged in a high-profile lobbying and public relations battle with EADS North America, the subsidiary of the European conglomerate behind Airbus. Boeing is trying to convince both the Pentagon and Congress subsidies from European governments to Airbus should be weighed in the Air Force’s refueling-aircraft competition.
Boeing has also tapped Congress to back a long-term contract for its F-18 Super Hornet fighter jet. The company is working to receive more money for its C-17 cargo planes, an aircraft the Pentagon says it does not want.
EADS North America started a PAC in 2006. The PAC is on track to make record-level contributions this year. So far this year, it has contributed $219,500, compared to $189,100 in 2008.
Watchdog organizations predict that in coming years competition for limited defense dollars will result in companies trying to preserve the business they already have.
“They are going to be fighting to preserve the piece of the pie,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan organization.
“Lawmakers are still the ones who are writing the checks. The fewer dollars that are going around, the more vicious the competition,” he added.
Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said that there is an expectation from lawmakers that companies and their affiliated interests “pony up” the campaign contributions. She added that history has already proven that the Washington strategy based on campaign contributions and lobbying “offers a fantastic return on investment for those who play the game.”
For example, between August and November of 2008, General Dynamics’s PAC spent about $200,000.
Northrop Grumman’s PAC shows a similar pattern. The PAC had already spent $1,493,050 by mid-July. Overall, the PAC spent $1,623,250 in the 2008 election cycle, with about $242,000 spent in the last four months before the election.
Large defense companies and their PACs often find themselves in competition with each other when it comes to congressional contributions, said one defense lobbyist, who asked not to be quoted by name. The companies are wary of falling too far behind their competitors.
The more money the PACs have in their coffers, the lobbyist said, the more lawmakers they can contribute to outside the traditional defense committees, potentially making new allies.