WASHINGTON --- You couldn’t blame defense contractors for being in a great mood this week. In his speech to Congress on Tuesday, President Donald Trump — who has repeatedly said he wants to build up American military dominance — announced that he’s “sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”
Indeed, the White House plans to recommend a $54 billion hike in defense spending, a boost of about 10 percent from current levels.
That’s not too shabby a return on investment, considering that the defense sector spent less than $29 million on political contributions in the last election cycle. Only $315,000 went to Trump, but the donations were heavily weighted toward Republicans, as they have been for the last several cycles.
Of course, defense’s $29 million in contributions pales in comparison to, say, the financial sector, which is stuffed with deep-pocketed financial firms and individuals who have reaped riches from gambling on the markets; they injected upwards of $1 billion into the accounts of candidates, parties, outside spending groups and other committees in 2016. Two companies — Renaissance Technologies and Paloma Partners — each contributed more than the entire defense sector, mainly through ultra-wealthy partners at the firms.
If defense interests spent relatively little on political contributions, however, that doesn’t mean that they did an inadequate job pursuing their goals. While White House budgets are sometimes considered little more than amusing suggestions by Congress, which controls the purse strings, the industry has fierce defenders on Capitol Hill.
“In Congress, it’s never about the magnitude of the money as much as it is about the strategic placement of your contributions,” said Meredith McGehee, chief of policy at Issue One.
The top heavyweights in the field — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon — have consistently demonstrated that truth. Since 2009, they’ve accounted for about 40 percent of the defense sector’s political contributions, having given candidates a total of over $42 million. In the 2016 cycle, they contributed almost $12 million, or 41 percent of the sector’s overall giving.
These companies, like other defense firms, primarily target two types of recipients: Those who serve on the House or Senate Armed Services committees, and those who are on the Appropriations panels, the latter of which oversee bills allocating government spending.
Lawmakers who sat on the Armed Services committees in the 114th Congress received a combined total of almost $4.5 million from those four companies, led by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) at roughly $185,000. (Note that figures for senators in this post include funds given over their six-year terms; House cycles are two years. Also, they don’t include Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), as he ran for president; his White House campaign received more than than $244,000 in gifts from the quartet of defense giants.)
Overall, defense, through both PACs and individuals associated with companies in the sector, gave members of the Armed Services panels almost $10 million dollars in contributions. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chair of the House’s committee, netted nearly $394,000 — the most money from the sector of any member of Congress. He even bested all of last year’s presidential candidates except Hillary Clinton (over $1 million) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (almost $418,000). (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the CRP website.