Defense lobbying flat despite sequester

Defense industry lobbying on spending remained flat for the first six months of 2012, even as defense contractors have warned that they face grave danger from the threat of sequestration.

Lobbying totals for 20 of the most politically active defense and aerospace contractors in the past six months was nearly identical to that of the first half of 2011, according to an analysis of lobbying disclosure filings by The Hill. 

The companies' lobbying totaled $53.1 million both years, with an increase of just 0.1 percent in 2012.

Contractors held off on boosting lobbying spending the first three months of 2012, a trend that continued while the companies gained Washington’s attention by threatening to issue mass layoff notices over the $500 billion, 10-year cut to defense spending under sequestration.

Industry sources say the reason that lobbying spending is not ramping up is that contractors don’t feel they can gain any ground in Congress lobbying behind the scenes.

The defense cuts have been described as devastating by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and lawmakers in both parties, but the debate over stopping them has been largely overtaken by the dispute in Congress over taxes and spending.

The cuts have been wrapped up into the end-of-year fight over the fiscal cliff, which includes the expiration of the Bush-era tax rates and another potential increase in the debt ceiling.

Even if the defense contracts aren’t spending more on lobbyists, many are taking their case public. Lockheed Martin CEO Bob Stevens warned that his company could issue layoff notices to all 123,000 employees just days before the election due to sequestration, and the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) released a study that claimed 2 million jobs in both defense and non-defense sectors were at risk over the cuts.

One group that has boosted its lobbying significantly is the AIA, a trade association that has taken the lead for the industry to fight the cuts. The group’s lobbying has tripled in the first six months of 2012 compared to 2011, as it has spent $1.2 million on lobbying this year, lobbying records show.

Lockheed Martin, which has been among the most vocal on sequestration, increased its lobbying to $7.9 million this year compared to $7.2 million in 2011. Northrop Grumman increased its spending by more than 50 percent, to $8.6 million — the highest of any defense contractor — but that increase may be due to the company’s attempt to persuade Congress to prevent the Pentagon from killing its RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 drone.

Boeing, General Dynamics and United Technologies all saw their spending on lobbying drop modestly this year.

Some defense companies, including Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, have broken ranks with other top defense firms over just how dangerous the sequestration cuts really are.

The sequestration cuts were put into law in August 2011 under the Budget Control Act, when the roughly $500 billion in defense and non-defense discretionary reductions were included as a punitive measure to spur Congress to find more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction. When the supercommittee failed to craft a plan, the 10-year sequestration cuts became law and will take effect Jan. 2, 2013.

Of course, the flatline for defense lobbying could quickly jump up toward the end of the year, particularly once Congress starts negotiating specifics on a sequestration deal, or if Congress moves away from the across-the-board method of cutting that’s currently written into the law.