Defense contractors ramp up donations to GOP election objectors

Ken Calvert, Vicky Hartzler, Mike Rogers
Greg Nash

Defense contractors are ramping up PAC donations to Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, with funds flowing to lawmakers on committees that wield control over Pentagon spending.

Nearly every major defense firm paused political contributions following the Jan. 6 insurrection, and many expressed disgust at the sight of rioters storming the Capitol. Those same companies have quietly resumed political donations and even increased their giving to election objectors in May.

According to the most recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, defense contractors last month donated to more than one-third of the 147 Republicans who objected to the Electoral College vote.

“The companies’ reversal is another example of how our system for awarding money to contractors is often pay-to-play,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight. “The size of agency budgets and programs should be based on performance, but too often it’s clear that even these companies see it’s based on access and corruption.”

Defense firms resumed giving through their political action committees as Congress began work on the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which is expected to go through initial markups before the August recess. President Biden requested a $753 billion defense budget for 2022, a slight increase over this year’s funding.

Many of the leading defense contractors rely on the massive defense spending package for most of their revenue. Lockheed Martin, the top U.S. defense contractor, received $74 billion in prime government contracts last year, according to Bloomberg Government. Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics received nearly $26 billion and $23 billion, respectively.

Lockheed Martin last month made PAC donations to political action committees affiliated with 25 of the congressional Republicans who objected to the Electoral College vote after bankrolling only a few of them in April. The company said in a statement Wednesday that it would “continue to observe long-standing principles of non-partisan political engagement in support of our business interests.”

Boeing resumed its donations last month as well, shelling out around $900,000 to political action committees. The company donated to several of the 147 Republicans, giving $5,000 each to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.).

Other arms manufacturers such as Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, BAE Systems and Leidos made their first donations to election objectors in April then increased their contributions the following month.

Raytheon is the only major U.S. defense contractor that has maintained its pause on PAC donations.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) is the biggest recipient of defense PAC donations among lawmakers who voted against certifying President Biden’s victory over former President Trump. Calvert is the top Republican on the powerful House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, which determines funding levels for defense contractors. His campaign account and leadership PAC took in a combined $31,000, according to FEC filings.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (Mo.), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, was the No. 2 recipient of PAC money, with $22,500. Her subcommittee manages contracts for pricey fighter jets that compete for funding, such as Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Boeing’s F-15EX.

Rep. Mike Rogers (Ala.), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, also received significantly more than other lawmakers who voted to overturn the election.

Corporate PACs, which are funded by executives and employees of a company, can donate $5,000 per election cycle to lawmakers’ campaign accounts and leadership PACs. While that’s a relatively small figure in pricey modern-day elections, company executives and lobbyists have credited PAC donations for helping them get their message across to lawmakers.

“The PAC is an important tool companies are using within their overall government relations engagement strategy,” said Kristin Brackemyre, director of PAC and government relations at the Public Affairs Council. “A PAC contribution sends a collective message on behalf of a company’s employees and fosters relationships with candidates and lawmakers across the political spectrum.”

Leidos said in a statement that it resumed PAC donations in the second quarter of 2021 and introduced a new criteria that considers “integrity and character” of the recipients.

Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and BAE Systems declined to comment on why they are now contributing to lawmakers after hitting the brakes earlier.

Defense contractors were among the first companies to shut down PAC giving following the deadly attack on the Capitol. In January, BAE Systems called the incident “deeply disturbing,” and Boeing condemned the “violence, lawlessness and destruction” that took place at the Capitol.

“We will continue to carefully evaluate future contributions to ensure that we support those who not only support our company, but also uphold our country’s most fundamental principles,” Boeing said in a January statement. 

Still, defense contractors did not offer a timeline on their PAC pauses, and they never committed to swearing off donations to the 147 Republicans.

In the 2020 cycle, defense PACs gave more than $14 million to lawmakers’ fundraising committees, with slightly more money going to Republicans. Their donations outpaced other influential industries, including pharmaceutical manufacturers, oil and gas companies, commercial banks, and law firms, according to OpenSecrets.org

A small number of major companies, including AT&T, Comcast, Home Depot, Amazon and Walmart, have so far kept their promise to suspend PAC donations to Republicans who objected to the election results. JPMorgan Chase & Co. joined the small list of companies making the pledge this month, stating that it would suspend its donations to objectors through the 2022 midterms.

Tags 2020 election Contractors Donald Trump Joe Biden Ken Calvert Kevin McCarthy Mario Diaz-Balart Mike Rogers Steve Scalise Vicky Hartzler
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