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The B-2 Bomber

Behind every weapons system listed in the defense budget is a lobbying story. Lawmakers push for companies in their districts, trying to secure local jobs. These lawmakers also are often the beneficiaries of campaign contributions from the companies, whether through PACs, individual contributions from corporate executives, or both. Sometimes lawmakers make log-rolling deals with other members of Congress -- you vote for my weapons system, I'll vote for yours.

Below is a case study of the B-2 bomber, one of the most controversial weapons systems considered by the 104th Congress. A case study on the Seawolf submarine program follows.

The biggest surprise in the House floor defense debate was the close vote -- 203 to 219 -- on the amendment by Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) to strip $553 million of funding from the B-2 bomber. If ever there were a year for the B-2 to fail, 1995 would seem to be it. A quick look at the history of the "stealth" bomber, however, shows that the surprise may not be that they lost their amendment, but that they lost it by such a small margin. In fact, the two lawmakers have a long record of failure in trying to cut funding for the bomber.

Development of the aircraft began in the early 1980s. It was intended as one of a new breed of planes capable of avoiding radar detection. The idea was to build planes that could go deep into enemy territory without being discovered, ideal for raids on the Soviet Union or other far-off places. The Pentagon planned for a complement of 132 bombers.

Because the development for the B-2 began as a top secret program, the amounts being spent were not made public. The Defense Department had already spent over $20 billion by 1988 when the program finally came out of the "black budget." By 1990, cost estimates to complete the bombers had skyrocketed to over $70 billion.

With the end of the Cold War, some lawmakers started to question how many B-2s were needed. In 1989, Dellums introduced his first amendment in full committee to cut the B-2 program. It lost, 16 to 36. Kasich also made his first foray against the bomber, with an amendment on the House floor to hold production at 13 planes until further design testing was complete. His amendment also lost, and badly, 144 - 279. However, other amendments to set conditions on funding did pass on the House and Senate floors. The B-2 flew by other challenges, taking some more nicks in funding in 1991-92, until 1993, when Congress voted to cap spending on the first 20 B-2s at $44 billion, or $2.2 billion apiece.

In all of these skirmishes, the main contractor for B-2, Northrop, was very much in evidence on Capitol Hill. (In May 1994, Northrop merged with the contractor Grumman to become Northrop Grumman). In fact, Northrop has used the classic defense strategy to assure funding for the plane. These campaigns are many-pronged, combining campaign contributions, high-priced lobbying firms, top Washington pollsters, organizing subcontractors, advertising, and plenty of lobbying gimmicks.

There are five major subcontractors on the B-2: Boeing, General Electric, Hughes Aircraft, Loral Corporation, and Vought Aircraft.3 Together, Northrop Grumman and the five major subcontractors' PACs contributed nearly $2 million to congressional candidates in the 1994 elections. Of this, $984,465 went to current members of the House of Representatives. In addition to the $2 million, another $233,212 went to candidates over the same time period in individual contributions of $200 or more from employees of B-2 contractors and subcontractors.

The $2 million is a measure of these companies' total PAC clout. Most of them have interests beyond the B-2, whether in other weapons systems or in products that have nothing to do with military contracts. For example, Boeing and General Electric do the bulk of their business outside the realm of defense. However, when there is a showdown in Congress -- as there was this year on the House floor over B-2 -- it is reasonable to assume all of this PAC money counts with members.

During the first four months of 1995, the three B-2 contractors for which data is available -- General Electric, Hughes Aircraft, and Northrop Corp. -- gave $158,900 to congressional candidates through PACs, with the bulk of the money coming in during March and April, as the B-2 lobbying debate grew more intense in Congress. Of this amount, over $100,000 came from Northrop Grumman's PAC, much of it in bursts of check-writing covering three days: March 9, March 17, and April 12, 1995. Among the recipients on the three days were Robert L. Livingston (R-La.), Dick Armey (R-Texas), Martin Frost (D-Texas), and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who all received $5,000 contributions.

Northrop Grumman's PAC contributions from January through April 1995 showed an increase of 62 percent from the same time period in 1993. (Nineteen ninety-three figures reflect contributions from PACs for both Northrop and Grumman, which merged in May, 1994.)

The 1995 B-2 Fight

One of the first signals that the B-2 would be a big fight in 1995 came in January. Seven former Pentagon chiefs signed a letter to President Clinton supporting more spending on B-2s. Richard Cheney, Caspar Weinberger, Frank Carlucci, Harold Brown, James Schlesinger, Donald H. Rumsfeld and Melvin Laird all signed the letter organized by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit that promotes preservation of the nation's defense industrial base. The defense arm of the foundation is run by former Rep. Jim Courter (R-N.J.). The government should plan for more B-2 bombers now, the letter said, or Northrop Grumman could falter, B-2 specialists would take other jobs, and it would be impossible to provide bombers on demand.

Northrop Grumman was also on the offensive, with a proposal for Congress to fund 20 more B-2s at the cost of about $11.4 billion, or $570 million per airplane. A key element in Northrop Grumman's strategy was organizing subcontractors to lobby lawmakers. While budget-conscious lawmakers may be willing to vote against large, wealthy companies for the public relations value of being a budget hawk, it's much tougher to go against heads of small businesses from your own district when they argue they will go out of business without more funding. A February newsletter published by Northrop Grumman, reported by Defense Week, revealed some of the company's lobbying strategy.

The company divided the country into five regions, each to be headed by a different Northrop Grumman division or other major B-2 contractor. These companies would organize the subcontractors in their district to lobby Congress. "B-2 suppliers across the United States will be contacted by regional representatives and their sub-tier representatives to explain what actions need to be taken to ensure that B-2 funding is included in the 1996 fiscal year defense bill," said the newsletter.

Northrop Grumman also made full use of the "gee-whiz" factor of technology in its lobbying, inviting members and staff to inspect the B-2. "I have visited the B-2 factory in California, seen the B-2, climbed on its extraordinary wing, sat in the cockpit, and met with representatives of the literally hundreds of firms that designed and built it," remarked Rep. Sam Brownback, a freshman Republican member from Kansas, during the B-2 House debate. If lawmakers are able, they can even fly the B-2 themselves, as former astronaut Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) did this year. (The senator opposes funding for the bomber.)

Northrop Grumman also paid for "fact-finding trips" and conferences. For example, according to his personal financial disclosure form, in March 1995 the company flew Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) and his wife from Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles in March 1995 for an unveiling ceremony for the bomber. McKeon is a staunch advocate for the B-2, and, in fact, helped line up Republican votes for the bomber for the House vote. Northrop Grumman also paid for Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) to fly to Los Angeles and Palm Springs in March.

Finally, Northrop Grumman could count on its stable of hired lobbying firms, including Timmons & Company and Balzano Associates, and long-time lobbyist Morris J. Amitay. These lobbyists are often close-lipped about their activities. "We just lobby Capitol Hill for [Northrop Grumman]. We do not speak to anyone from the media for them," said a spokesperson for Timmons and Company, when asked about the firm's work on the B-2 fight.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon was headed in a different direction from Northrop-Grumman's position. The Air Force had concluded that building new B-2s would be too expensive and that they weren't needed. The Clinton budget proposal contained $928.2 million for B-2s, far short of what Northrop Grumman wanted.

In May, not long before the House National Security Committee's markup of the defense bill, the B-2 seemed to take a fatal hit when the Institute for Defense Analysis released its B-2 study, commissioned by Congress the previous year. The study concluded that there was no more need for B-2s, that it would be more cost effective to upgrade existing airplanes than build the new planes. Also in May, the Pentagon came out with its own numbers on how much 20 new B-2s would cost -- $31.5 billion to $36.5 billion, more than twice the amount that Northrop Grumman had claimed.

Nevertheless, Northrop Grumman's lobbying paid off in the House National Security Committee, which voted for $553 million above Clinton's request in funding for the B-2. With the House floor debate looming, Northrop Grumman continued to lobby hard, realizing that many lawmakers remained undecided about the B-2. The company had been running advertisements for the B-2 in Washington publications and on television. The National Security News Service estimated that the contractors spent over $1 million for print advertisements alone in a one-month period, between May and June.

Lawmakers were feeling Northrop Grumman's presence -- and then some. One typical letter to a lawmaker, dated June 7, was hand-signed by the presidents, managers, or other officials of 32 local businesses, on letterhead with the logo "B-2 Industrial Base Team." "Within a year, virtually all the...companies that provide subsystem, parts, and services to build the B-2 will have completed their work....Conclusion of the 20-aircraft program will have a severe impact on our industry....The loss of high technology jobs associated with B-2 is a concern second in importance only to the genuine need for the bomber to meet our national security requirements," argued the letter.

Another letter to a different lawmaker shows a computer-generated blow-up of the congressional district and also bears the heading "B-2 Industrial Base." The member is informed that there are 48 suppliers to the B-2 in his district, including 38 small businesses, one small minority and one women-owned, with $7.1 million worth of subcontracts.

"They were talking to virtually every single member," laments one congressional staffer whose boss opposed the B-2. "They were walking around the halls, and getting to members. Some had little lapel pins shaped like a B-2 bomber."

There was clear evidence of strong arm-twisting -- much of it by B-2 booster Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) A top recipient of B-2 contractor's PAC money, with $25,350 in 1993-94, Dicks turned his attention to getting Democrat votes for the B-2. He had good luck, particularly, with New York Democrats such as Tom Manton and Gary Ackerman, according to a report in Defense Daily.

Ackerman was a particularly startling convert. A liberal Democrat, who had not always been a B-2 supporter, Ackerman is also not a big recipient of B-2 contractors' PAC dollars, receiving just $1,000 from Grumman Corp. in 1993-94. In fact, the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill quoted him calling the B-2 "one of the last gasps of keeping an industry alive, the initial purpose of which has waned." Nevertheless, on June 7, Ackerman sent a letter (co-signed by Reps. Gerard B. Solomon, Maurice Hinchey, and Benjamin Gilman) to all the members of the New York delegation, urging their support for the B-2 funding. One explanation for Ackerman's change of heart is the recent merger between Northrop and Grumman. Grumman has offices in his district, which means jobs.

Dicks was also instrumental in swaying key members of the Black Caucus, including Carrie Meek (D-Fla.), William Jefferson (D-La.), and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). In all, Dicks helped get the votes of 73 Democrats, according to Defense Daily.

Among Republicans, one lawmaker who was sitting on the fence on B-2 told the trade paper that he changed his mind after hearing a luncheon briefing on the day of the vote by former Air Force Secretary Don Rice, who served under President George Bush. Rice is now CEO of Teledyne Inc., a B-2 subcontractor. In fact, the trade paper reported that Rice "set up shop" in House Majority Leader Dick Armey's (R-Texas) conference room off the House floor "to answer any questions."

The lobbying worked. The close vote, 203 to 219, astonished B-2 opponents, who thought they had a better chance to win this year than any other. They could only speak with grudging admiration for Northrop Grumman's lobbying efforts.

Campaign contributions help explain at least part of the reason for their success. Dellums and Kasich had lost again, five years after they introduced their first anti-B-2 legislation. The 219 members who voted for the B-2 received, on average, $3,285 from prime contractor Northrop Grumman and major B-2 subcontractors' PACs in 1993-94, compared to $1,305 for those who voted against it.

On June 29, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted out a defense bill that does not contain additional funding for the B-2 bomber. In fact, in a closed meeting, members of the committee voted 13 to 8 against allocating $500 million for the bomber.

Senators who voted against B-2 funding received only slightly less in PAC contributions, on average, from B-2 contractors since 1989 than those who voted in favor of the B-2: $23,530 versus $25,371. In fact, seven senators who received over $25,000 in B-2 contractors' PAC contributions voted against the B-2, versus three senators receiving over $25,000 in B-2 PAC contributions who voted in favor of the bomber.

The strong vote against the B-2 came as a surprise to Northrop Grumman and some of the senators, too. "We thought it would be a lot closer," says Ann Sauer, an aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who sits on the Armed Services Committee and opposes funding for the bomber.

The full Senate is expected to debate the defense authorization bill in July 1995. It is quite likely that a senator will offer an amendment to restore funding to the B-2 program.

Defense contractors give most of their campaign money through PACs -- 89 percent in 1992, the most recent cycle for which complete information is available. However, individual contributions still play a role, and employees for defense companies often "bundle" their contributions to key lawmakers. An examination of campaign giving by employees of Northrop Grumman and major B-2 subcontractors shows:

* Overall, employees of Northrop Grumman and major B-2 subcontractors gave $233,212 to congressional candidates in 1993-94, of which nearly $172,591 went to current members of Congress.

* The top recipient of all major B-2 contractors' employee contributions in 1993-94 by far was Jane Harman (D-Calif.) with $49,000. The next highest was Charles Wilson (D-Texas), with $12,150. Harman, in fact, was the recipient of a number of campaign cash "bundles." For example, 19 Loral Corporation executives gave her a total of $9,750 on October 25, 1993. Twenty-six executives for Northrop and Hughes Aircraft Company gave her $10,100 on November 9-10, 1993. In 1994, 23 Loral Corp. executives gave her $15,750.

* On October 20, 1994, 11 Loral executives, most of them from Ohio, gave $3,500 to Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Ohio). Charles Wilson (D-Texas) received $12,150 from 26 Loral executives on March 3, 1994, most of them from Texas. On February 4, 1994, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) received $5,000 from seven Loral executives -- none of them from Iowa.

* In 1994 Senate races, top recipients of individual contributions from Northrop Grumman and major B-2 subcontractors were Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), with $8,250, followed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), with $8,000.

* Northrop Grumman executives contributed $42,810 in 1993-94 to current members of Congress. The largest contributor among these was Northrop's Chairman Kent Kresa, who, along with other members of his family, gave $6,000.

* Top recipients of Northrop Grumman employee contributions in 1993-94 were two California Democrats known for protecting home-turf defense firms: Harman with $9,650, and Dianne Feinstein with $6,500 -- $2,500 of which she received in four contributions on one day, October 17, 1994.

3 Northrop Grumman owns 50 percent of Vought Aircraft.