How Buck McKeon Is Showing GOP Freshmen the Ways of Washington

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In February, word of a fundraiser for 13 House Republican freshmen lawmakers got out – first reported by Bloomberg-Government. Dubbing themselves the “Lucky 13,” these lawmakers are all on the influential House Armed Services Committee, which authorizes spending and creates policy for the Defense Department. A fundraising body controlled by the chairman of the committee, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), organized the fundraiser for the Lucky 13 and solicited campaign contributions from defense contractor political action committees, or PACs.

Turns out the funding drive was pretty lucrative, based on recently released quarterly filings with the Federal Election Commission. But what’s perhaps more interesting is the filings also show how McKeon is using money – raised through defense contractor contributions – to curry favor within the Republican membership of his committee.

Despite a lot of the rhetoric emanating from Republicans that defense cuts would be “on the table” in their drive to reduce federal spending, many House Republicans, especially McKeon, are pushing back aggressively to preserve, and even increase, the Defense Department massive base budget (this is separate from the annual special war supplementals that largely fund operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya). It’s hard to square this position with the fact that the defense base budget has massively increased since 9/11 and is the biggest part of the discretionary federal budget. McKeon’s ability to control the Republican majority on his committee gives him massive leverage to shape the defense budget debate.

To understand one way McKeon is currying influence, a cursory understanding of one of the facets of congressional power politics is needed. Most informed Americans understand that lawmakers use campaign committees to raise money for their political campaigns, but what’s less well known is the phenomenon known as “leadership PACs.” Leadership PACs are used by lawmakers to spread the wealth to other lawmakers to help build up their base of political support among colleagues.

All of the Lucky 13 except one (Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill.) received contributions directly from at least one identified defense contractor PAC in February, based on my examination of their FEC filings. In addition, McKeon’s leadership PAC, called the 21st Century Fund, contributed $1,000 to each of the 13 freshmen on February 15, the day of the fundraiser.  But who funds the 21st Century PAC? Defense contractors, mostly.

Here are all of the contributors to McKeon’s 21 Century PAC in February (if you click on the links below they will take you to information about some of their government contracts, except for the first link that is to website of the American Maritime Officers, many of whom work in military sealift):

American Maritime Officers Voluntary Political Action Fund
American Shipping and Logistics Group Freedom PAC/ASL Freedom PAC
Deloitte Federal Political Action Committee
General Dynamics Voluntary Political Contribution Plan (GDVPCP)
Maersk Inc. Good Government Fund
SAIC, Inc. Voluntary Political Action Committee
The Boeing Company Political Action Committee
The Surefire PAC

The “Lucky 13” are Republican Reps. Vicky Hartzler (Mo.), Scott Palazzo (Miss.), Austin Scott (Ga.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Tim Griffin (Ark.), Joe Heck (Nev.), Scott Rigell (Va.), Martha Roby (Ala.), Bobby Schilling (Ill.), Allen West (Fla.) and Todd Young (Ind.). If you click on the lawmakers’ hyperlinked names, you’ll go to the FEC page detailing the contributions they’ve received from PACs, including the 21st Century PAC, in February.

Of course, Buck McKeon himself has benefited from the altruistic generosity of defense contractors, as a quick skim of his Center for Responsive Politics profile shows.