By John T. Bennett - 03/04/11 11:48 AM EST
The two companies that for a decade battled over a lucrative Air Force tanker contract ramped up their spending on lobbying around the time the last KC-X competition went south.
Boeing and EADS nearly doubled their spending on lobbying from 2007 to 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Both companies’ lobbying totals have remained well above those levels ever since.
EADS spent just over $2 million in 2007 before ramping up to nearly $4.5 million the next year. Its spending on advocacy has hovered just over $3 million per year.
“The federal government’s selection [last Thursday] of Boeing to build the next generation of Air Force aerial refueling tankers comes after years of contentious fighting that’s resulted in sky-high lobbying spending and accelerated campaign contributions to key politicians,” said the center’s Eric Chu.
“But both companies have heavily ramped up spending during the past three years since they began competing head-to-head for the $35 billion contract,” Chu said.
Boeing and EADS officials acknowledge the bitterly contested tanker race accounted for a big portion of their lobbying activities. But both firms told The Hill the center is making a connection that does not add up.
“Certainly the tanker was a very important part of what we were doing the last few years,” said Daniel Beck, a Boeing spokesman. “But we also have hundreds of other programs — on the defense side and on the commercial side.”
Boeing’s sizable spending and political giving also rose during a period in which Pentagon officials targeted several of their top defense programs for termination: the Air Force’s C-17 cargo plane, the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) and the Transformational Satellite (TSAT).
“On the commercial side, we also have to be monitoring and talking to people about” Federal Aviation Administration, World Trade Organization and labor issues, Beck said.
EADS spokesman Guy Hicks noted tanker-related efforts accounted for “certainly a good amount but not all” of its increase in both categories. Around the time the center’s data shows its numbers rising, EADS was stepping up its efforts in the U.S. market.
“We made the decision to start an awareness campaign in the U.S. at higher levels than we had done previously,” Hicks said. “Our investments support over 200,000 direct and indirect American jobs. We wanted [Washington] to know and understand that extremely important fact.”
Hicks acknowledged the $2 million increase from 2007 to 2008 was largely tied to the tanker contract it had won in February 2008, but was later voided after Boeing successfully protested.
“In 2008, we increased our activities to support the first tanker award in the face of Boeing’s negative advertising and lobbying juggernaut,” Hicks said. “That effort trailed off a bit until the tanker competition began again.”
EADS also called the center’s comparison with its top rival “apples to oranges” because Boeing "exponentially outspends us in every and all categories.”
Boeing was selected to build planes based on a 767 aircraft. Experts said it was able to offer a lower price, and a major deciding factor was its plane would be far less costly to operate over 40 years.
There were signs Thursday the decade-long fight might be over. Reuters reported an EADS source said the firm would not protest the decision.