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F-35 Contractors, Under Fire, Spent Record Amounts In 2014
By Clark Mindock, Center for Responsive Politics

May 4, 2015 - Scathing reports have once again spotlighted the massive cost and delays surrounding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a jet designed for multiple branches of the military that has been dubbed the single most expensive weapons program in history.

Even as criticism has rained down upon them, though, the four main contractors on the project have made sure campaign funds flow to lawmakers who are instrumental in keeping government payments coming for the jet. And all four contractors upped the ante last year with record contributions.

One of the recent reports, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, is critical of engine failures and software glitches that have caused delays in manufacturing and testing. Notably, an engine fire last summer grounded the entire fleet, some of which were expected to enter active service by the end of this year.

The engine is designed by Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technologies, a company that also took fire in a separate report from the Department of Defense Inspector General this month, which mentioned more than 60 breaches in the company’s compliance with Pentagon requirements and policies.

F-35 procurement is expected to cost nearly $400 billion, according to the GAO report, and the Pentagon’s budget for it is projected to rise from $8.4 billion in 2015 to $12 billion in 2018. A 2011 OpenSecrets blog report linked members of a then-new group of F-35 enthusiasts on Capitol Hill, the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus to the contractors.

But a new analysis of 2014 data shows that some of the top recipients from the contractors are powerful legislators: party leaders and chairs or ranking members of influential committees and subcommittees. All together, United Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems donate millions of dollars every couple of years to lawmakers in the Capitol.



Following slightly differing time frames, their individual giving has grown enormously since the JSF program started in 1997.  The main contractor, Lockheed, and Northrop Grumman led the pack in 2014, each contributing $4.1 million to campaigns. UT spent $2.1 million, and BAE gave $1.4 million. For all four, 2014 was a record year. Giving from the contractors typically favors Republican candidates by large margins. In the case of Lockheed, for instance, Republican support generally hovers at 60 percent of its total giving (2008 and 2010 were two recent exceptions to the rule, but, as seen in the chart above, Republicans are once again the favored party). 

At the top of their recipients list, however, are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with powerful spots in important committees. The House Armed Services Committee, House Appropriations Committee, and Senate Appropriations Committees were the biggest targets of all of the companies; lawmakers in each received $1.7 million, $1.3 million, and $658,499, respectively. 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is the only lawmaker in the top five of each company. Now the Senate minority party’s No. 2, and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Durbin in 2014 took $62,000 from Northrop Grumman, $54,000 from UT, $29,600 from Lockheed, and $29,299 from BAE. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) showed up in the top five of two of the contractors — $27,400 from Lockheed, $23,500 from BAE — as did Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) — $14,000 from BAE, and $11,500 from UT. Members of the House appropriations and Armed Services Committees were up there as well — often taking in more than the lawmakers in the Senate. 

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, received $75,900 from Lockheed, and $29,000 from Northrop Grumman. The top Democrat in the Committee, Washington Rep. Adam Smith took in $28,200 from Northrop Grumman. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the ranking member of a subcommittee in Armed Services took in $11,500 from UT. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), just a member of the Committee, got $11,500. Hunter is also the son of former House Armed Services Chairman, former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter (R-Calif.). 

In Appropriations, several subcommittee chairs make a showing in the companies’ top fives as well. Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) the chairwoman for the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee and vice-chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee received $73,350 from Lockheed (Granger also lists herself as co-chair of the JSF caucus on her website with a link to the 2011 press release announcing the caucus). The ranking New Jersey lawmaker on the panel, Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, saw $73,350 from Lockheed (Frelinghuysen is also the chairman of the Homeland Security and Defense Committee). Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) took in $35,700 from Northrop Grumman, and $13,600 from BAE.

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