The levels of power in Washington, D.C. are pulled by those with the most influence or those that can buy the most influence. Rep. Buck McKeon has a significant amount of influence as Chairman of the powerful Armed Services committee. McKeon’s is one of the most strident defenders of the military-industrial complex, and his corporate campaign donors have purchased his influence to protect their industry.
McKeon has been among the loudest voices against any reduction in military spending, and has often couched this defense with reasons including supporting the troops or supporting American jobs. In an op-ed in USA Today, McKeon wrote that “for the past two years, the Pentagon has suffered cut after damaging cut, killing off vital military modernization programs and atrophying our military’s end strength.”
According to McKeon, “the Obama Defense Department cut back or canceled more than 20 major military modernization systems and slashed our strategic nuclear deterrent.” Among these programs was a second engine for F-35 fighter, which the military and Defense Department had determined was a waste of money. Lead by Republicans, Congress has continued to fund the program despite DOD opposition.
McKeon’s support for continued and unsustainable military spending seems to be at odds with what his constituents and the American people want. Americans support reducing defense spending. Poll after poll has shown that they support it. In January of 2011 a CBS News poll found that 52% of those surveyed were “willing” to reduce defense spending. In February of 2011 a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that a majority of those surveyed felt that national defense “could be cut significantly.”
In the US House of Representatives the Chairmen of the various committees have the power to assign members of their committees as chairmen of the various subcommittees. McKeon has been using his power as Chairman to appoint members of congress who have been bought and paid for by the defense industry. Last month, McKeon announced his nominations for chairmen of the various Armed Services subcommittees. Every single appointed chairman is flush with cash from the defense industry.
Previously known as the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee oversees counter-terrorism, Special Operations Forces, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) among other programs. The committee is chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry, who received more than $154,000 in campaign contributions from the defense industry in the 2012 election cycle.
According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the majority of defense industry campaign contributions to Rep. Thornberry were from Political Action Committee (PAC) money. His single biggest contributor was the defense industry giant Northrop Grumman, which contributed $18,000 to his campaign. Several other defense industry companies gave to Thornberry’s campaign including $12,850 from Textron Inc, $10,250 from General Dynamics, and $10,000 from Lockheed Martin.
As Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, Rep. Randy Forbes will oversee the US Navy and Marine Corps including procurement and research ad development programs. Forbes received more than $120,000 from the defense industry in campaign contributions during the last election cycle. More than 84 percent of these contributions came from PAC donations.
Forbes’ second largest contributor was Northrop Grumman, which contributed 19,300 to his campaign – even more than it contributed to Thornberry. Other defense industry companies that donated to Forbes’ campaign included SAIC Inc, which contributed $10,500, BAE Systems, which contributed $10,000, and Raytheon, which also contributed $10,000.
Each of the other four chairmen of subcommittees received significant contributions from the defense industry. Rep. Rob Wittman chairman of the Readiness subcommittee received more than $147,000; Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee received more than $133,000; Rep. Mike Rogers chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee received more than $132,000; and Rep. Joe Wilson, chairman of the Military Personnel subcommittee received more than $98,000;
Northrop Grumman is among the largest campaign contributors to chairmen and members of the Armed Services committee. During the 2012 cycle Northrop Grumman contributed more than $3 million to federal campaigns. More than $772,000 went to members of the Armed Services committee, more than any other committee membership. In fiscal year 2012 Northrop Grumman received contracts from the DOD worth more than $14.8 billion. Studies suggest that a defense industry company like Northrop Grumman may be getting a return on their investment.
According to a study by St. Louis University professor Christopher Witko, there is a connection between campaign contributions and government contracts. The study, “Campaign Contributions, Access, and Government Contracting,” examined campaign contributions and contracts from 1979 to 2006, and found that “significant relationship between contributions and the receipt of future contracts.”
The study concluded that for every $201,220 a company contributes to campaigns, they can expect an additional 107 government contracts. In 2006 the average government contract was $49,800, which would place the value of 107 contracts at approximately $5.3 million. It is also worth noting that during the time period examined in the study (2000 through 2007the number of no-bid contracts tripled, reaching 207 billion. By 2005 approximately 40% of contracts did not arise from full competitive bidding processes.
Photo: Rep. Buck McKeon meeting with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) in April 2011.