Senate Chairs

Published — January 5, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Carl Levin — Senate Armed Services Committee

Longest-Ever Tenured Michigan Senator Focuses on Military and Oversight

Introduction

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq march toward a second decade, Democrat Carl Levin chairs the Senate committee overseeing the Defense Department. Levin, now 76, is in his sixth term and has represented Michigan in the Senate since 1979 — the longest tenure of any Michigan senator in history.

Levin first became Armed Services chairman in January 2001 when the Democrats briefly controlled the evenly-divided Senate. He served another stint later that year, when Sen. James Jeffords left the GOP and returned the chamber to Democratic control until the start of 2003. His current tenure at the panel’s helm began in 2007. From 1997 through 2000, and during the subsequent periods when the Senate was under Republican control, Levin was the committee’s ranking minority member. In all, he’s been the top Armed Services Democrat for about 14 years. Over that time, he has opposed the 2002 Iraq War resolution, advocated for what his spokesman termed “operationally effective missile defense systems against emerging threats,” pushed to address a lack of soldiers and equipment for what he believed to be a stretched-too-thin U.S. Army, and pushed for a repeal of the Pentagon’s prohibition on open service by gay Americans.

Levin is also chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, part of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, as he was during the last Democratic-majority Senate. He has used his position on that wide-reaching panel to spearhead investigations into the financial meltdown, the credit card industry, tax shelters, oil and energy prices, and Enron.

Levin authored the 1989 Ethics Reform Act and fought to ban gifts and paid trips for senators. With his liberal voting record and strong ties to organized labor, the one-time kingmakers in Michigan, much of his campaign money has come from labor unions and companies connected to unions. He returns the support with his voting record — voting with the interests of the AFL-CIO 93 percent of the time over his career.

He has also obtained over $834 million in earmarks over the past three years, sending federal funds to his economically-troubled state.

His brother, Sander Levin, has been a U.S. Representative from Michigan’s 12th Congressional District since 1983 and chaired the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee for most of 2010.

A spokesman for Levin declined to comment for this story.

Top PAC Contributors

  • Butzel Long Tighe Patton, a law firm that lobbies for a range of clients including Guam Shipyard and the Workers United labor union — at least $15,048
  • Amalgamated Bank, the only bank in the U.S. wholly owned by a labor union — at least $15,000
  • Service Employees International Union, the 2.2 million-member union of service workers — at least $12,500
  • Laborers’ International Union of North America, the labor union for the construction industry — at least $12,500

PACs gave at least $1.1 million to Levin’s campaign account

Revolving Door

  • Jason Hill, a former healthcare legislative aide to Levin, is now director of federal government relations for Wal-Mart
  • Carla Kish, a legislative assistant to Levin in the early 1980s, is a lobbyist at The Margolin Group and represents the County of Los Angeles, Planned Parenthood of California, and the Tarzana Treatment Centers
  • Marda J. Robillard, who worked for Levin from 1978 to 1986, is now vice president at Van Scoyoc Associates, where she lobbies for Anheuser-Busch Companies, Prince William County, Va., and the Center for Responsible Lending
  • William J. Weber, a former Levin legislative assistant, is a partner at the Baker Hostetler firm, lobbying for Catalyst Paper Corporation, Federated Investors, Inc., and the Colgate-Palmolive Company

Earmarks

  • Between 2008 and 2010, Levin obtained over $834 million in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
  • In 2010, he obtained more than $243 million in earmarks, including $1.6 million for Raytheon Company’s Troy, Mich., location for Hybrid Electric Drive All Terrain Vehicles, $2 million for GE Aviation Systems LLC in Grand Rapids, Mich. for Precision Engagement Technologies for Unmanned Systems, and $3.2 million for L-3 Communications’ Combat Propulsion Systems division in Muskegon, Mich., for Heavy Fuel Engine Family for Unmanned Systems, all defense contractors

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