Heavy armor, heavy lobbying
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By Philip Ewing Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 11:45 am
Posted in Land, Policy
General Dynamics has been quite open in its opposition to the Armys proposed three-year closure of its tank plant in Lima, Ohio. But what has that actually meant, in practical terms?
The Center for Public Integrity detailed GDs fight against the Pentagon in an excellent story this week, detailing the nuts and bolts of a high-stakes effort by a powerful company to protect one of its key interests. Multiply this story by the Defense Department budget and the many brand-name contractors that depend on it, and youve got a look inside the workings of the Iron Triangle.
As CPIs Aaron Mehta and Lydia Mulvany write, official disclosures show that General Dynamics contributions to key lawmakers coincided with important events on Congress calendar:
Sharp spikes in the companys donations including a two-week period in 2011 when its employees and political action committee sent the lawmakers checks for their campaigns totaling nearly $50,000 roughly coincided with five legislative milestones for the Abrams, including committee hearings and votes and the defense bills final passage last year.
After putting the tank money back in the budget then, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have authorized it again this year, allotting $181 million in the House and $91 million in the Senate. If the company and its supporters prevail, the Army will refurbish what Army chief of staff Ray Odierno described in a February hearing as 280 tanks that we simply do not need.
Top Army officials have so far been unable to get political traction to kill the M1. Part of the reason is that General Dynamics and its well-connected lobbyists have been carrying a large checkbook and a sheaf of pro-tank talking points around on the Hill.
For example, when House Armed Services Committee member Hank Johnson, D-Ga., held a campaign fundraiser at a wood-panelled Capitol Hill steakhouse called the Caucus Room just before Christmas last year, someone from GD brought along a $1,500 check for his re-election campaign. Several months later, Johnson signed a letter to the Pentagon supporting funding for the tank. Johnson spokesman Andy Phelan said the congressman has consistently supported the M-1 because he doesnt think shutting down the production line is in the national interest.
The contribution was a tiny portion of the $5.3 million that GDs political action committee and the companys employees have invested in the current members of either the House and Senate Armed Services Committees or defense appropriations subcommittees since January 2001, according to data on defense industry campaign contributions the Center for Public Integrity acquired from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
These are the committees that approve the Pentagons spending every year. Without their support, the tank or any other costly military program would be dead.
Kendell Pease, GDs Vice President for Government Relations and Communications, said in an interview that the company which produces submarines and radios for the military as well as tanks makes donations to those lawmakers whose views are aligned with the firms interests. We target our PAC money to those folks who support national security and the national defense of our country, Pease said. Most of them are on the four [key defense] committees.
But Pease denies trying to time donations around key votes, saying that the companys PAC typically gives money whenever members of Congress invite its representatives to fundraisers. The timing of a donation is keyed by [members] requests for funding, he said, adding that personal donations by company employees are not under his control. He said the donations tend to be clumped together because lawmakers often hold fundraisers at the same time.
In other words, contractors dont even need to watch the House or Senate calendars to see when topics of interest are going to come up lawmakers just ask forthrightly for donations when they need them. Sometimes, however, outside events will prompt an increase in donations, as Mehta and Mulvany write:
During the current election cycle, General Dynamics political action committee and its employees have sent an average of approximately $7,000 per week to members of the four committees. But the week President Obama announced his defense budget plan in 2011, the donations spiked to more than $20,000, significantly higher than in any of the previous six weeks. A second spike of more than $20,000 in donations occurred in early March 2011, when Army budget hearings were being held.
General Dynamics isnt the biggest contributor of the big brand names, according to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics, and defense is only the 13th biggest giver by interest group for this election cycle. Overall, defense firms have given more than $16.7 million since 2011, and the biggest givers are Lockheed Martin with more than $2 million; Boeing with $1.8 million; Northrop Grumman with $1.8 million; Raytheon with $1.4 million; and then General Dynamics with more than $1 million.
Although the defense sector contributes far less money to politicians than many other sectors, it is one of the most powerful in politics, as the Center for Responsive Politics puts it. Part of the reason is that lawmakers have an inherent political interest in protecting their districts, and part of the reason is the industrys spending on lobbying: In 2012, defense aerospace firms have spent $28.8 million on lobbying, according to the center; misc defense firms have spent $18.4 million; and defense electronics companies have spent more than $18 million. Taken together, thats more than $65 million as of this month. Last years total was $133.9 million.
So who are some of the lobbyists who advocated for GD on the tank question? Many of them are former staff members from the House or Senate Armed Services Committee, and Mehta and Mulvany include thumbnail profiles here.
Nemo me impune lacesset,
|"The chief aim of all government is to preserve the freedom of the citizen. His control over his person, his property, his movements, his business, his desires should be restrained only so far as the public welfare imperatively demands. The world is in more danger of being governed too much than too little.
It is the teaching of all history that liberty can only be preserved in small areas. Local self-government is, therefore, indispensable to liberty. A centralized and distant bureaucracy is the worst of all tyranny.
Taxation can justly be levied for no purpose other than to provide revenue for the support of the government. To tax one person, class or section to provide revenue for the benefit of another is none the less robbery because done under the form of law and called taxation."
John W. Davis, Democratic Presidential Candidate, 1924. Davis was one of the greatest trial and appellate lawyers in US history. He also served as the US Ambassador to the UK.