This story was co-published with the Huffington Post.
The U.S. Air Force has awarded an initial $21.4 billion contract for a new stealth bomber to be equipped with nuclear weapons, following years of ardent lobbying and generous campaign donations by the victorious military contractor, Northrop Grumman, to 224 key members of Congress.
The firm’s task will be to construct at least 21 Long Range Strike bombers, Air Force Assistant Secretary William LaPlante announced at a late afternoon Pentagon press conference on Oct. 27. It will be the second largest military program in 14 years, exceeded only by the Joint Strike Fighter, manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
Lobbyists and officials at Northrop Grumman have spent years greasing the wheels on Capitol Hill to ensure congressional support for the program and for the firm’s central role in it, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s review of lobbying and campaign contributions by the contractor and its employees.
Congress has given the program $2 billion so far, starting in fiscal 2011. That year, the House Armed Services Committee, then chaired by Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., even added $100 million more than the $197 million the Air Force requested for new bomber work for the 2012 fiscal year.
The company, through its political action committees and via its employees, contributed $4.6 million to the campaigns and leadership PACs of 224 lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees that control the Pentagon’s purse strings, from 2010 through the most recent campaign filing period ending on September 30, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of federal campaign contribution data.
The company also spent a total of $85.4 million to lobby Congress, the Department of Defense, and other agencies on the bomber program as well as other military spending issues, from 2010 through the most recent lobbying reporting period ending on September 30, according to the Center’s analysis of federal lobbying records. The lobbying was done by a staff of more than 100 who worked specifically on defense issues, including five former members of Congress.
The local communities where the new bombers and their flight crews will be based have also pressed for the program, which will in some cases help them hold onto an economic lifeline for decades to come. Community organizations based in Abilene, Texas; Bossier, Louisiana and Ellsworth, South Dakota, all home to bomber bases, have spent $1.4 million lobbying on defense issues in the past six years, including lobbying on the bomber program and other bombers, according to the lobbying records.
They’ve also sent local delegations to Capitol Hill to advocate for their communities. In January, for example, politicians from Louisiana, Missouri and Texas, contractors, congressmen and lobbyists – all members of the so-called Bomber Support Community –gathered in a House of Representatives reception room to hear speeches touting the plane’s strategic importance.
Norm Archibald, the mayor of Abilene, Texas, was there with a small group representing Dyess Air Force Base and its B-1s. Another contingent came from Minot Air Force Base in South Dakota, home to the Air Force’s B-52 5th Bomb Wing. The reception’s host was Murray Viser, a businessman from Louisiana and the head of Barksdale Forward, which promotes the state’s Barksdale Air Force Base, where the Air Force’s other B-52 bomb wing operates.
The speeches were followed by a four and half minute presentation, set to martial, ominous music, extolling the virtues of Long Range Bombers, played on the two large flatscreen televisions embedded in the conference room walls. The video was actually produced by the ‘bomber caucus’, what Viser said was an informal organization, which he also referred to as “the bomber constituency.”
After the presentation, Archibald, the mayor of Abilene lauded the B-1 bombers stationed at Dyess and acknowledged the support of the Abilene Military Affairs Council and its two lobbyists. The Abilene MAC exists in part to “build support to protect and expand the military mission in Abilene,” according to its website. Its corporate sponsors included Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
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