Payday for Protectors of Northrop Grumman Drone Program

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The Center for Public Integrity released a story earlier today about how Northrop Grumman was able to use a traditional full court press of lobbying power and campaign contributions to help save its Global Hawk Block 30 drone program, which had been “plagued by recurrent operating flaws and maintenance troubles,” from being cut to save the government $2.5 billion.

The story details that the campaign to save Global Hawk Block 30, which included 26 lobbyists and $940,000 in campaign cash to House Armed Services Committee members from Northrop Grumman’s PAC and executives, “culminated” in a letter from two key congressmen to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, reminding him of the Defense Department’s duty to buy three more Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft.

The letter, which was sent on May 13, 2013, came from Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), an influential member of the House Appropriations Committee. What was revealed only yesterday in campaign finance disclosures to the Federal Election Commission is evidence that the executives of Northrop Grumman threw both these members of Congress fundraisers in the month preceding or following the submission of the letter.

Moran’s FEC filing reveals that on April 3, 2013, 14 Northrop executives gave Moran’s re-election committee $15,600, including $2,600 from CEO Wesley Bush, likely evidence of a fundraising event. The total from that single day is slightly more than the $15,500 Moran took in from Northrop Grumman over the entire 2012 election cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

McKeon, whose campaign committee and leadership PAC had already taken $130,700 from Northrop Grumman’s PAC and employees since 2009, also appears to have gotten an extra fundraising boost from Northrop after he signed the letter. His FEC filing shows that fifteen days after the letter was sent to Secretary Hagel, McKeon took in $2,500 from Northrop Grumman’s corporate PAC. Then, between June 19 and June 29, 16 of the company’s executives gave $17,600 toward McKeon’s re-election, with 12 of those contributions coming on the same day.

The frequent overlap of actions by legislators and infusions of campaign money from the interests those actions benefit raises serious doubts in Americans’ minds about where Congress’s priorities lie. While one $2.5 billion program is hardly enough to make or break the federal budget by itself, the Global Hawk Block 30 is a potent illustration of the costs of America’s money-driven political system and the need for reform that instills confidence that all decisions are being made with the best interests of the country in mind.