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Meet Six Politicians Getting Rich from America’s Endless Wars

The defense industry is a powerful and influential lobby, and here are its biggest players.

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War is a racket, and perpetual war is a money-printing machine. Though the defense industry as a whole contributes relatively little to members of Congress compared to, say, the pharmaceutical lobby, it remains an incredibly powerful and influential lobby. Below are the six members of the House whose primary industry donor in the 2012 election cycle was the defense sector. (Numbers are from the Center for Responsive Politics, unless otherwise noted.)

1. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA): $566,100 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.

It’s impossible to talk about defense industry beneficiaries without mentioning Buck McKeon. He became the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee in 2009, and then the chairperson after the GOP took the House in the 2010 election. Donations from the defense sector to his 2012 campaign dwarfed all other House campaigns, with McKeon bringing in a whopping $566,100.

That big pile of money certainly seems to have made McKeon a friend to the military. As part of the House, McKeon doesn’t have the opportunity to vote on Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, but he still publicly opposed the appointment, due to Hagel’s presumed willingness to back defense spending cuts. A statement on McKeon’s website reads in part, “[Hagel’s] refusal to shut the door on further defense cuts put him at stark odds with the current Defense Secretary and military leaders.” McKeon is also, predictably, against a round of planned automatic cuts to domestic spending and the military budget, known as the sequester, which he has said could “start costing lives.”

Regarding the US’ longest war, McKeon thinks it hasn’t gone on long enough. He has called the planned troop drawdown next year, “needlessly fraught with risk,” and said that “our hard-fought gains are fragile and reversible.” If that language sounds familiar, it’s because he said almost the same thing regarding troops leaving Iraq. “I remain concerned that this full withdrawal of US forces will make that road tougher than it needs to be,” he said in a statement posted on his website. “These shortcomings could reverse the decade of hard work and sacrifice both countries have endured to build a free Iraq.”

McKeon is predictably hawkish on Iran, consistently supports providing military aid to Israel, and is in favor of expanding military powers as contained in the 2012 NDAA act, which critics say allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens by the military.

2. CW “Bill” Young (R-FL): $229,760 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.

Bill Young is the longest-serving Republican member of Congress, having served since 1970, and a long-time beneficiary of defense sector contributions. Since 1989, when CRP’s data begins, Young has received $1,440,385 from defense PACs and individual contributors. And since at least 1998, defense sector contributions to Young’s campaigns have been greater than from any other industry, often by staggering amounts. He is currently the chairperson of the defense appropriations subcommittee, a powerful position he has held on and off since the mid-1990s.
In 2012 he wavered on his support for continuing the war in Afghanistan,telling the Tampa Bay Times that the longer we stay in-country, the more we’re “killing kids who don’t have to die.” Those comments, however, come after more than a decade of war, and after numerous refusals by Young to even consider a timetable for withdrawal.
Recently, Young came under attack from then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates about a Humvee project Young was protecting that Gates said was unnecessary. Makers of the Humvee, AM General, had contributed $80K to Young’s campaign, but he denied that the contractor’s donations played any role in his decision to defend the program.
Young was one of the targets of an independent ethics investigation in 2010 that involved six other members of the defense appropriations subcommittee.The investigation – conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is not comprised of members of the House – found, according to the New York Times, “that private contractors who received millions in defense industry earmarks from the seven lawmakers generally believed that their political contributions to the members facilitated the financing their companies received.” All seven were cleared by the House ethics committee, which is to say, the colleagues of the targets.
The congressman has also faced down charges of nepotism after earmarking millions of federal dollars to a defense contractor that employed his son. The porkbarreling doesn’t stop with family members: the Center for Public Integrity reports Young “obtained about $475 million in earmarks over the past three years, mostly funneling money to defense contracting firms that are also among his top donors.”
3. Charles Albert “Dutch” Ruppersberger III (D-MD): $229,550 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
The third biggest recipient of defense sector contributions in the House over 2011- 2012 is Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat. Dutch took office in 2003 and became the first first-term congressperson appointed to theHouse Select Committee on Intelligence. He became the ranking member – highest committee post for the minority party – in 2011, landing him a spot on the so-called “Gang of 8,” who are supposed to be kept apprised of the president’s intelligence decisions. He has previously served on the Armed Services committee.
Dutch has been in the news lately for co-sponsoring a bill, along with House intelligence committee chair Mike Rogers (R-MI), called the Cyberintelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA. CISPA gives private companies the ability to share information with government intelligence agencies, which could potentially use the data however they see fit – in the name of national security, of course. An identical version of the bill passed the House in 2012, but went nowhere after Internet privacy activists mounted a campaign against it and Obama threatened a veto. CISPA has returned, however, much to the dismay of activists who say it could be the end of what little privacy remains online.
“In seeking to promote cybersecurity information sharing, CISPA creates a sweeping exception to all privacy laws,” Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the New York Times.
A tweet from Dutch’s official Twitter handle reads, “#CISPA: Because U.S. companies need to protect your personal information from hackers.” One has to wonder if the next industry to do massive fundraising for Dutch might be the telecoms, which overwhelmingly support CISPA.
4. Morris “Mo” Brooks (R-AL): $202,020 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
Second-term congressperson Mo Brooks is a minor figure compared to the first three on this list. He traffics in boilerplate GOP positions like opposing the debt ceiling increase and pushing an absurd bill to impeach the president if he and Congress don’t pass a balanced budget. Bruce Bartlettonce called a balanced budget amendment the “dopiest constitutional amendment of all time.”
Brooks, like many on this list, sits on the House armed services committee. He enjoys photo ops with Raytheon, tied for his fifth largest contributor. He also managed to keep $403 million in a defense budget for a missile project the military didn’t want, in which Boeing, a major contributor to Brooks, was the lead contractor.
Brooks has said he favors eliminating all foreign aid, save to Pakistan for the remainder of the war in Afghanistan, which he thinks should end, and Israel.
As Israel bombarded Gaza with disproportionate force, Brooks’ official Twitter handle said he, “stand[s] with our close ally #Israel […] during this violent and horrific attack on innocent civilians.”
In a similarly tin-eared tweet, his official handle responded to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (which Brooks is against) by saying, “Our founding fathers fought for individual liberty.” More shockingly, Brooks said of removing undocumented immigrants from the US, “I will do anything short of shooting them.”
5. Adam Smith (D-WA): $201,000 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
Smith is the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services committee, and has served on that committee since he entered Congress in 1997. He is a centrist, “ New Democrat.”
Like every other member of the House, save Barbara Lee, Smith voted in favor of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). He voted against a bill calling for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2011, but now says he believes it’s time for the war to end. In 2002, Smith joined 80 House Democrats and 215 House Republicans to vote in favor of going to war with Iraq. Smith voted for the Patriot Act in 2001,against the reauthorization in 2005, but reversed himself again and voted in favor of the reauthorization in 2011.
In 2011, Smith voted against banning the president from using ground forces in Libya – that is, Smith wanted to leave the option of using ground forces open to Obama.
He voted in favor of the 2012 NDAA, which, as mentioned earlier, critics say allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens by the military. Smith wrote a letter urging for the bill’s passage and arguing that the scope of NDAA is more limited than critics allege. Several months after the passage of the 2012 NDAA, Smith co-sponsored legislation that would ensure due process rights to any individual detained on US soil, and, according to a statement Smith released, “prohibit military commissions and indefinite detention.” That billdied after it was referred to committee, while the NDAA is currently facing a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.
6. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX): $199,500 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations (lost in primary).
This member of the House has received more donations from defense contractors than from any other industry.
Reyes was defeated in a primary challenge by Beto O’Rourke, who now represents Texas’ 16th district. Reyes was on both the House armed services and select intelligence committees, making him a powerful ally for defense contractors. So it should be no surprise that those very same contractors attempted to rescue him from O’Rourke’s primary challenge at the last minute by flooding his campaign with contributions.
Reyes is a full-on drug warrior, even suggesting sending armed drones into Mexico to kill drug cartel leaders.
Despite being on the House intelligence committee, Reyes often appeared clueless about basic elements of foreign policy. He incorrectly referred to al Qaeda as “predominantly probably Shi’ite” (it is Sunni) and couldn’t identify which of the two sects dominated Hezbollah. (The answer is Shi’ite.)