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Why We Shouldn't Pay for the Political Spending of Federal Contractors

By       Message Robert B. Reich     Permalink
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Reprinted from Robert Reich Blog

From Lockheed Martin CEO. Lockheed Used Taxpayer Dollars to Lobby for more Taxpayer Dollars
Lockheed Martin CEO. Lockheed Used Taxpayer Dollars to Lobby for more Taxpayer Dollars
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President Obama is said to be considering an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. He should sign it immediately.

He should go further and ban political spending by federal contractors that receive more than half their revenues from government.

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations can contribute unlimited amounts to "independent" election efforts, big businesses have been funneling huge amounts of cash -- often secretly -- into American politics.

That's bad enough. But when government contractors do the spending, American taxpayers foot the bill twice over.

Our tax dollars are spent on their lobbying and campaign contributions. And if their lobbying and contributing is successful, our tax dollars are spent on federal contracts we often don't need.

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A study by St. Louis University political scientist Christopher Witko reveals a direct relationship between what a corporation spends on campaign contributions and the amount it receives back in government contracts.

Reviewing campaign contributions and contracts from 1979 to 2006, Witko found that even after controlling for past contracts, companies that contributed more money to federal candidates subsequently got more and bigger contracts.

A case in point is America's largest contractor -- Lockheed Martin. More than 80 percent of Lockheed's revenues come from the U.S. government, mostly from the Defense Department.

But it's hard to say American taxpayers have gotten a good deal from Lockheed.

For example, Lockheed is the main contractor for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It's been the single most expensive weapons program in history, and also one of the worst -- plagued by so many engine failures and software glitches that Lockheed and its subcontractors practically had to start over this year.

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Why do we keep throwing good money after bad?

Follow the money behind the money. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Lockheed's Political Action Committee spent over $4 million on the 2014 election cycle, and has already donated over $1 million to candidates for 2016.

The top congressional recipient of Lockheed's largesse is Mac Thornberry(R-Texas), Chairman of the House Armed Services committee. Second-highest is Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-New Jersey), Chair of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Third is Kay Granger, the Subcommittee's Vice-Chair.

Lockheed also maintains a squadron of Washington lawyers and lobbyists dedicated to keeping and getting even more federal contracts. The firm spent over $14 million lobbying Congress last year.

Government officials who deal with the firm know that when they're ready to leave government, Lockheed is likely to offer them a generously-paid lobbying job.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at

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