Congress has approved a defenseÂ policy bill that the president has signed each of the past 6 years, yet this year, itâ€™s struggling. The House & Senate disagree over many of its provisions, including the financing & direction of individual military programs within an overall budget exceeding $600 billion.
As a result, the resolution of these disputes inÂ the next fewÂ weeks will fall to a relatively small group in Washington â€“ just 48 lawmakers. And as it turns out, the group is remarkably beholden to the private defense companies whose profits depend on their decisions.
The lawmakers sit on whatâ€™s known as a conference committee, whose deliberations — yet not decisions –Â are secret. Itâ€™s tasked with forging a version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 that both chambers will approve. And, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, those particular lawmakers from 2003 through 2014 received four times as much defense industry funding for their elections & leadership committees, in total, as the members of the House & Senate Armed Services committees who were not appointed as conferees.
p>Over this period, the 48 conferees received a total of $20.6 million in inflation-adjusted dollars from the political action committees affiliated with the top 75 defense contractors & from their employees, according to the Centerâ€™s analysis, or an average of $430,049 apiece. The 41 members of the Armed Services committees who weren't appointed conferees received roughly $5.2 million in the same period, or an average of $126,465 apiece. The large contractors who donated included such firms as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, & Booz Allen Hamilton.
One reason the confereesÂ got more is that they tend to be more senior lawmakers, & academic studies show that lawmakers tend to attract more funding from the industries whose fate they influence as their seniority increases.
The 32 House members appointed as conferees include 27 Republicans & Democrats drawn from the most senior of that chamber's 63 Armed Services members. The nine Republican Senate conferees include the seven most senior of the 14 GOP Armed Services members. Only among the Senate Democrats on the conference panel is there a mostly even split by seniority, with three of the most junior members serving alongside four of the top ranking Democrats.
In several studies of the committee system,Â Randall KrosznerÂ at the University of Chicago andÂ Thomas StratmannÂ at George Mason University concluded that as lawmakers gain committee seniority they are more likely to receive higher contributions from corporate-run political action committees & to receive more frequent contributions from the same donors. Other studies have shown that members who donate more of their campaign funds back to their parties are more likely to secure coveted committee assignments.
On the House side, more than half of those named to the conference committee have served on Armed Services for at least a decade. That includes the chairman andÂ a leader of the conference committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who collected a total of $933,415 from the largest 75 contractors, according to the Centerâ€™s analysis. That made him the highest overall recipient of contractor funds among all of the 89 members of the House & Senate Armed Services Committees.
Related:Â Contributions to House & Senate Armed Services committee members from top defense contractors
Thereâ€™s more to this story. Click here to read the rest at the Center for Public Integrity.
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Copyright 2015 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.
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Source: “Center for Public Integrity”