Arms lobby won big in this vote Weapons exporters spent many millions to help friends

November 10, 1996|By William D. Hartung

MANY VOTERS were unenthusiastic about their choices in last Tuesday's elections, but the nation's largest weapons contractors took a keen interest in the outcome. According to a new study by the World Policy Institute, the top 25 U.S. arms exporting firms poured more than $6.5 million into the 1996 campaign. Lockheed Martin was the industry's biggest political spender, with $1.6 million in donations. This political investment could pay off handsomely for these corporate arms merchants when the new Congress takes office in January.

Since the end of the Cold War, arms sales to foreign countries have taken on added importance for major military contractors as they seek to fill the gap left as Pentagon weapons outlays decline. These companies have turned to Congress and the Clinton administration for help, with great success. At a time when domestic programs from welfare to health care are being cut, government subsidies for arms exporting companies have actually increased, from $7 billion to $7.6 billion, between 1994 and 1995. In 1995 alone, two new subsidy programs were created:

* A $15 billion, taxpayer-backed arms export loan guarantee fund; and

* A $200 million annual tax break for foreign weapons purchasers.

In addition, for two years running the Republican-controlled Congress has approved billions more in weapons funding than the Pentagon even asked for.

To keep this budgetary gravy train rolling on into the 21st century, weapons exporting firms threw their financial weight behind the Republican majority in Congress, while reserving a sizable minority of their funding for key Democratic incumbents who have been helpful to the industry in the past. The $5.2 million in political action committee (PAC) contributions by arms exporting companies during 1995-96 favored Republicans over Democrats by a 69 percent to 31 percent - a margin [See Arms, 5f] of better than 2-to-1.

Candidates backed by the arms industry did exceptionally well on Nov. 5.

Of the 21 U.S. Senate candidates who received $20,000 or more in contributions from weapons exporters, 18 won, one lost, and two chose not run for re-election.

In the House, the industry's track record for backing winners was even stronger: Of 47 candidates who received $20,000 or more from arms merchants, 45 won, one lost, and one chose not to run for re-election.

The arms industry's political money was carefully targeted to members of Congress who can do it the most good.

The top five recipients of industry largess in the Senate included John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, chairman of the Airland Forces Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee, $104,200; Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, $101,000; Armed Services Committee member James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, $87,500; Armed Services Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond, Republican of South Carolina, $73,500; and Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, $65,400.

Each of these powerful members was re-elected Tuesday with the help of tens of thousands in contributions from weapons exporting firms.

In the House, top recipients arms exporter PAC funds included ** Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert L. Livingston, Republican of Louisiana, $85,000; National Security Subcommittee member John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, $65,000; National Security Committee members Jane Harman, Democrat of California, $57,200; Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Republican of California, $57,111; Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, $54,500, and Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri, $54,000; House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republican of Georgia, $51,000; and National Security Committee Chairman Floyd D. Spence, Republican of South Carolina, $48,000.

If the experience of the 104th Congress is any indication, these military industry contributions will be repaid many times over in the form of increased government subsidies and pro-industry legislation. Among the members who have gone to bat for the industry in the recent past are Harman, who spearheaded the effort to preserve one of the the industry's pet projects, the $15 billion arms export loan guarantee fund. The arms industry money made a difference for Harman, who was re-elected with just 53 percent of the vote.

On the Senate side, Mitch McConnell led the floor fight in the Senate which blocked Sen. Mark O. Hatfield's arms sales Code of Conduct bill, which would have made it much harder for U.S. companies to supply weaponry to dictatorships and human rights abusers.

McConnell has also been one of the Senate's most vocal critics of campaign finance reform.

The arms industry's Republican tilt is in part a vote of confidence in Gingrich, so the Republican party's retention of its majority in the House is good news for weapons dealers.

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