A nation decides to go to war
for many reasons. Whatever one may think of the wisdom of President
George W. Bush's decision to embark on war with Iraq, hopefully we can
agree that the debate over going to war should not be skewed by
powerful special interests and their ability to purchase access and
influence in Washington.
the facts about the defense industry's history of campaign
contributions raises troubling questions about the decision-making not
just for this war, but for national security beyond this war.
There is no doubt
that the defense sector has been, since World War II, an evermore
powerful lobby in Washington. Just recall President Eisenhower's
warning in his farewell address to the nation on Jan. 17, 1961:
This conjunction of an
immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the
American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even
spiritual -- is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of
the Federal government.... We must never let the weight of this
combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should
take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can
compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery
of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and
liberty may prosper together.
That was 40 years ago. What would Ike think today?
The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics
conservatively estimates that defense contractors have been the source
of $72.5 million in contributions to federal candidates and parties
from 1989 to present. The total number is somewhat higher, because some
major arms makers, like Boeing and General Electric, are giant
diversified companies. Unless they give directly to a member of a
defense-related committee in Congress, CRP classifies their giving
along their main line of business -- aircraft manufacturing for Boeing,
miscellaneous manufacturing for GE. (President Bush himself received
nearly $200,000 from the defense industry for his 2000 campaign.) By
comparison, peace and arms-control groups have given a total of $1.4
million over the same thirteen-year period, the Center reports.
The defense sector also gives to government in another influential way: with its top employees, through the revolving door.
According to the
World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center, 32 major
appointees of the Bush Administration -- including the deputy
secretaries of defense and state, and the secretaries of the Navy and
Air Force -- are former executives, consultants or major shareholders
of top military contractors. This is one-and-a-half times as high as
the number drawn from the energy sector. In addition, Lynne Cheney,
wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, served on Lockheed's board of
directors from 1994 to January 2001, accumulating over $500,000 in
deferred director's fees in the process.
Three key policy
decisions by the Bush Administration, above and beyond the war with
Iraq, are boons to the defense industry: deploying a missile defense
system by 2004, developing a new generation of more "usable" nuclear
weapons system, and adopting a national security strategy of aggressive
pre-emption of potential threats. Missile defense (which has yet to
pass objective testing measures of effectiveness) could alone cost as
much as $238 billion to deploy and maintain over the next 20 years, a
windfall to prime contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and
Overall spending on
national defense is approaching $400 billion for the current fiscal
year, up from $329 billion when Bush took office. Most troubling, this
rush to throw money at the defense industry has resulted in huge
continued spending on Cold War-oriented weapons systems that Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said he wanted to abandon. The World
Policy Institute notes that the 2003 budget includes $17 billion in
such spending, for such outdated products as the Air Force's F-22
Raptor (prime contractors Lockheed Martin, Boeing and United
Technologies) and the Navy's F-18E/F fighter (Boeing, GE and Northrop
Grumman). According to a new General Accounting Office report, the F-22
fighter program is dragging behind schedule and attempts by the Air
Force to control costs are failing miserably. The new report, released
last week by Representative John Tierney (D-MA), says that the Air
Force has been unable to implement cost-saving measures it promised and
has essentially kept Congress in the dark about excessive cost
It's not individual corruption, but systemic corruption that's the problem.
And then, there is
this war. When Members of Congress voted last October to give President
Bush blanket authority to use force in Iraq, they were influenced by
many factors. They heard from constituents, they heard from experts,
they heard from administration officials and they listened to their own
consciences. To say that campaign contributions from defense
contractors were the defining consideration when they cast their vote
would be a stretch. Nevertheless, it is important to examine the strong
correlation between defense industry campaign contributions and
Members of the
House who voted to authorize the use of force got slightly more than
twice the contributions from the defense sector than members who voted
"no." The 296 members who voted "yes" received an average of almost
$19,000 from defense contractors for the 2002 election cycle, and those
who voted "no" received an average of $9,000. Of the 150 members of the
House who had received at least $10,000 from the defense sector, 123
voted "yes" and 25 voted "no."
On the Senate side,
where the vote was more lopsided (77-23), the correlation is almost as
strong. "Yes" voters got an average of almost $60,000 over the past six
years, a full Senate cycle, while those who voted "no" received an
average of $38,000.
Overall, there was
a total of $6.9 million in defense-sector contributions to House
members in the 2001-2002 cycle, and another $2.6 million to the Senate.
Peace and arms control oriented PACs gave a total of $396,000, meaning
they were outspent by about 23 to one.
Why is it important
to look at these numbers? Again, we are not suggesting that Members of
Congress cast a vote last October giving the president the kind of war
powers he wanted because of campaign contributions. No one's vote on
the war was bought for $10,000, or even $60,000.
It's not individual
corruption, but systemic corruption that's the problem. The financial
heft of the defense lobby, like that of other special interest lobbies
that are generous contributors, influences the larger pool of people
who become our representatives in Congress, skewing it toward people
who are predisposed to their positions. Candidates with different
convictions about America's role in the world have a much smaller
universe of deep-pocketed donors in which to hunt for sufficient funds
to run a viable campaign.
Boeing and Lockheed
would not, after all, fund someone who thinks the defense budget is too
large. Then consider that, of the 435 members of the House, all but 73
received contributions from the defense sector. In the Senate, 95 out
of 100 were so favored. The very lack of money from the millions of
Americans -- up to half in surveys -- who during the war debate have
been skeptical of the Administration's call to confront Iraq means that
they were underrepresented in Washington, and that their concerns did
not get as much attention from Congress as they might have.
Alas, when we have a dollar-driven democracy, those with cash are more equal than others.
Micah L. Sifry, senior analyst with Public Campaign, is the co-editor with Christopher Cerf of The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions, due to be published in April 2003 by Simon & Schuster.
This article was reprinted with permission from Tompaine.com.