Billions of dollars funneled into rejected projects

Defense contractors are major campaign donors

Three defense contractors who make weapons systems that are on the chopping block for Department of Defense cuts have pumped more than $500,000 in recent years into campaigns for Ohio’s congressional seats as lawmakers fight to revive the programs.

Some say these legislators’ motivation is jobs. Congressmen interviewed for this story say they are motivated by national security.

“It’s politics and it’s money,” said Ben Freeman with the Washington, D.C.–based Project on Government Oversight. “You’re talking about an industry that’s putting tens of thousands and some years millions of dollars into our political process, and they’re good at it.”

Working with the non-profit Center for Responsive Politics, the Dayton Daily News examined lobbying and campaign donations by the political action committees and employees of the contractors behind the M1 Abrams tank, the Global Hawk Block 30 drone and the C-27J cargo carrier.

Funding for all of these systems was cut by the Pentagon in an effort to save potentially billions of dollars, but put back in the budget with strong backing from Ohio’s delegation.

Northrop Grumman, which builds the Global Hawk drone, has spent $8.6 million so far this election cycle on lobbying. It spent $20 million in 2008, the most recent presidential election year.

General Dynamics, which runs the M1 Abrams tank plant in Lima, has spent $5 million on lobbying this election cycle. Its lobbying has been steadily increasing in recent years – as talk of plant closure increased – from $7.2 million in 2007 to $11.4 million in 2011.

Alenia North America -- a part of the Italian firm Finmeccanica Inc. that, with prime contractor L-3 Communications, builds the C-27J Spartan -- spends more than $1.5 million a year on lobbying. This is in addition to the multi-million dollar lobbying efforts of L-3 and Finmeccanica. 

In campaign donations, the Daily News found that $504,100 has flowed into the coffers of U.S. Senate and House campaigns in Ohio since 2004, coming from the employees and PACs of General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and L-3 Communications.

Nationwide, employees and PACs of these three companies have contributed $15.5 million to campaigns since 2004.

The biggest Ohio recipient is Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, who sits on the influential defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. She has received $66,000 in campaign contributions from these companies since 2004.

Kaptur’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Kaptur is not a military expert and should leave defense decisions to those who are, according to Phil Christofanelli, spokesman for her Republican opponent in November, Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher.

“Joe believes that military experts, the people at the Department of Defense, should be the ones deciding what sort of material we need, not bureaucrats in Washington, not politicians in Congress,” Christofanelli said. “If Ohio can produce things the military asks for, Joe’s going to do his best to ensure those things are produced here in Ohio.”

Wurzelbacher’s campaign has received $250 from General Dynamics.

“What we see is politics and money is getting in the way of what’s really national security,” Freeman said. “These are sort of defacto bribes they’re getting.”

Lawmakers interviewed said campaign donations have no impact on their decisions.

“I’m looking at this from a national security standpoint, from an economic standpoint as far as jobs in our region. (Donations) do not impact that at all,” said Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek.

“It has no impact,” said Jim Jordan, R-Urbana. “People give to me because they know I’m conservative and I’m going to fight for a lower budget and family values.”

Brookings Institute senior policy fellow Mike O’Hanlon said the power of defense contractors and the so-called military-industrial complex is about all of these things: money, power, jobs.

“I think they (defense companies) probably do have a little too much clout, and there are times where I think that the big defense firms have a little disproportionate voice,” he said.

“You should ask those questions (of lawmakers) about their parochial interest, their constituent interest, their campaign interest, and it’s true that all those things tend to impact the average vote on weapons systems.”

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