Veteran’s Day: Defense Contractors and War Profiteering

Every year on Veteran’s Day, Americans across the country come together to honor the service of the country’s armed forces, and to express support for military veterans and their families. At the same time, many Americans hope that troops who remain in Iraq and Afghanistan after a decade of war will return home in the near future. Unlike American citizens, who are reluctant to place their sons and daughters in harm’s way by involving our country in wars overseas, the defense industry requires these wars to supply its profits. Defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman use donations to political campaigns and massive lobbying budgets bolster their profits with contracts from the Department of Defense.

According to Open Secrets, “the defense industry spent $136.5 million in 2009 — down from a high of $150.8 million the previous year” on lobbying. From 2011 to 2012 alone, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), received over $200,000 from defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. McKeon also organized a fundraiser for the “Lucky 13” Republican members of HASC where defense contractors contributed generously to each member’s political campaign. This fundraiser has helped cement the influence of the defense industry in shaping the policy of HASC under McKeon’s leadership.

The defense contractors who contributed to McKeon’s campaign received an astounding return on their investment. Rep. McKeon helped secure about $40 billion in government contracts for Lockheed Martin in 2012, which comprised between 85 and 90 percent of the company’s total revenue for that year. Many of these contracts involved projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, and may be a contributing factor to McKeon’s opposition to military drawdowns in those countries.

The donations that defense contractors make to political campaigns also create an incentive for politicians to advocate for increased military spending, much of which is funneled directly to those contractors. As House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Rep. McKeon fought against proposed defense cuts as part of the 2011 debt ceiling deal, and wrote in an op-ed that cutting the military’s budget would create an “extraordinary…degree of danger in a strategically uncertain and perilous time.” Rep. McKeon asserted that these cuts to the military budget were “unacceptable” despite the fact that the vast majority of the cuts were endorsed by U.S. military leadership, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Political contributions made by large defense contractors encourage politicians to reward those companies with enormous federal contracts, stifling competition that could save the government billions of dollars each year. These contributions may also create a moral hazard by encouraging politicians to wage unnecessary military conflicts abroad to bolster the profits of the defense companies who help fund their campaigns. The relationship between politicians and the defense industry represents yet another example of powerful corporations using their profits to advance their own interests over those of American citizens. 


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