Myth: “the Defense Lobby buys politicians”


For some years, some people have erroneously believed and claimed that defense budgets are determined by, and weapons programs initiated at the behest of, defense contractors, who supposedly buy Washington politicians’ votes. Anti-defense organizations like POGO have been spreading that propaganda for decades.

Recently, pseudoconservative sites like LibertyNews and the DailyCaller have been spreading that blatant lie too, claiming that the mythical “defense lobby” has essentially bought the votes of those Senators who voted for authorizing strikes on Syria. As “evidence”, they claim that the Senators voting for the strikes on Syria have received 83% more in contributions from defense contractors than Senators voting no.

But if you look beyond the deadlines – and the DailyCaller libelously shouts “WARBUCKS FOR WARMONGERS” – and look at the details, a completely different picture emerges. The defense industry has not bought these Senators votes, and if any “defense lobby” exists in America, it is woefully ineffective and far weaker than other lobbies.

LN and TheDC complain that pro-war-voting Senators have, on average, received $72K each from the defense industry in the last 5 years (2007-2012). Oh my gosh, $72K in five years!

Although LN and the DC want you to think it’s much, it isn’t. It’s peanuts, especially over 5 years ($14,500 per year on average, hardly George Soros money).

But some Senators voting AGAINST strikes on Syria, like Joe Barrasso of Wyoming, have received contributions ABOVE that average from the defense industry: $86K in Barrasso’s case. In fact, by LN’s and the DC’s own standards, even those Senators voting “no” on war have received handsome contributions from the defense industry: $40K on average.

But in reality, neither $86K nor $72K nor $40 K nor even $100K is George Soros money. It’s peanuts, especially over 5 years and especially given how much other industries and lobbies contribute to Washington politicians every election cycle.

Because, you see, when one looks at the defense industry’s TOTAL contributions to politicians, they are meager compared to the scores of millions of dollars that other industries and lobbies dole out.

A full list of all financial contributions to all 535 members of Congress in the 2012 election cycle (therein counted from January 1st, 2011, to December 31st, 2012) is available here. Basically, it says how much money which industry contributed to Washington lawmakers in the last cycle.

A close look at that list reveals just how tiny the defense industry’s muscle is.

The largest contributor sector of the defense industry is the defense aerospace sector: $9,113,892 in contributions. Defense electronic contractors contributed $6,083,951, defense shipbuilders $2,693,281, defense services $1,605,374, and other sectors of the industry no more than $615,014 each.

By comparison, here’s how much other, much more powerful lobbies contributed:

  • Lawyers and law firms contributed $82,383,361.
  • Corporate lawyers and law firms contributed another $7,748,951.
  • Trial lawyers and law firms doled out another $7,589,180.
  • Lobbyists and PR people contributed $25,324,387.
  • Liquor wholesalers contributed $6,595,758.
  • Business services doled out $12,287,113.
  • The Israeli lobby gave Congressional politicians $12,519,563.
  • Democrat- and Republican-leaning groups both contributed over $13 mn per each side. (See here and here.)
  • In the Miscellaneous Business category, General Commerce businesses contributed $15,318,578.
  • Industrial/commercial equipment and materials producers contributed $7,122,304.
  • Restaurants and drinking establishments contributed $7,606,496.
  • Civil servants and public employees doled out $13,004,717.
  • Building trades unions contributed $12,688,265.
  • Women’s issues political groups doled out $18,670,081.
  • In a surprise to nobody, Big Pharma is also a big donor: pharmaceutical manufacturing businesses alone contributed $11,196,254 to Washington politicians last election cycle.
  • Hospital employees contributed $12,349,339.
  • Health professionals dole out big bucks to politicians, too. On MapLight, the biggest donor category of these professionals is “other physician specialists”, contributing $20,220,876 to members of Congress in the last election cycle alone. A separate group, termed “physicians” by MapLight, doled out $19,698,565.  Dentists contributed another $5,668,355.
  • Security brokers and investment companies doled out $24,844,329.
  • Private security and investment firms steered $8,138,283 towards members of Congress.
  • Real estate companies contributed $14,362,151; on top of that, real estate developers and subdividers doled out $13,294,500, and real estate agents contributed another $11,462,900. Other real estate people contributed still further millions of dollars.
  • In the Misc Finance category, investors contributed $10,726,065.
  • Insurance companies, brokers, and agents contributed $14,043,345, and life insurance companies contributed still another $8,749,154.
  • Commercial banks and bank holding companies gave Congressional politicians $16,917,860.
  • Accountants doled out $11,438,703.
  • School and college employees contributed $27,402,329.
  • Book, newspaper, and periodical publishers contributed $9,423,129.
  • Several other industries contributed $6-7 mn each.

And yet, MapLight, LN, and the DC make a lot of noise about Senators receiving $72K on average from the defense industry, when many other industries make contributions measured in MILLIONS each election cycle to each of its favorite politicians!


The defense industry is a weak player in Washington and its money politics game. It is a baby chimp compared to the 800-pound gorillas that other industries and lobbies are.

By far the most powerful interest group/lobby in America are lawyers – “ordinary” lawyers and law firms contributed over $82 mn to Congressional politicians in the last election cycle alone. On top of that, corporate, trial, and other lawyers contributed still further dozens of millions of dollars.

School and college employees have the second-biggest financial muscle in politics – they contributed $27,402,329 in the last election cycle. Lobbyists and PR people are third, at $25,324,387 in contributions. Security brokers and investment companies are not not far behind, at $24,844,329. A group termed “other physician specialists” by MapLight is fifth, at $20,220,876. Physicians are sixth, at $19,698,565.

On top of them, there are – as shown above – many, many industries and interest groups which each contributed over $9 mn in 2011-2012 – usually over a dozen million dollars – far more than the aerospace industry – the relatively wealthiest part of the defense industry – could muster. Total contributions from all sectors of the defense industry were at about $21 mn in 2011-2012 – again far behind the contributions of the above-mentioned other sectors, especially the legal/law firm sector which alone contributed over $100 mn to Congressional politicians.

“Ordinary” lawyers and law firms contributed FOUR TIMES as much to Congressional politicians as the entire defense industry! School and college employees (not to mention the entire education sector) and the medical profession both also outperformed the entire defense industry in contributions, and by a wide margin.

Similarly, single-issue PACs advocating a dovish, pacifist foreign policy spent over $600K in the last election cycle, while PACs advocating a strong defense spent a meager $500. Just five hundred bucks.

Want to know why? Because the “military-industrial complex”, which supposedly buys politicians so that they vote for weapon programs the military supposedly doesn’t need and for wars, is a myth. It doesn’t exist and never did, Dwight Eisenhower’s foolish ramblings to the contrary notwithstanding.

And there’s more evidence that the “military-industrial complex” is a myth. Since 2009, when President Obama came into office, defense cuts now totalling over $1.5 TRILLION – over one and a half TRILLION dollars – have been programmed or already implemented. These include:

  • The closure of over 50 weapon programs by Secretary Gates in 2009 and 2010 ($330 bn);
  • The Gates Efficiencies Initiative, which involved cutting spending on everything at the DOD from HQs and generals to weapon programs ($178 bn);
  • The first tier of defense cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act pre-sequestration ($487 bn from FY2012 thru FY2022);
  • The second tier of defense cuts mandated by the BCA, i.e. sequestration ($550 bn, from FY2013 thru FY2022).

In total, this adds up to $1.554 trillion dollars in defense cuts already implemented or programmed to occur thru FY2022 – and there’s no indication they won’t happen, since Congress is utterly unable (or unwilling) to even cancel sequestration, yet alone the previous defense cuts.

And even further, under the cuts currently scheduled (mandated by the BCA), just like during all previous rounds of defense cuts, WEAPON PROGRAMS – the things the defense industry makes money on – are and will be the DOD’s favorite targets, as they are the by far the easiest thing to close. Whenever there are defense cuts, weapons programs and other modernization funds are everyone’s favorite pots of money to raid.

By contrast, Congress has strictly PROHIBITED the DOD from even PROPOSING to close unneeded bases, reform the military’s healthcare and retirement programs (which would involve modestly increasing healthcare plan premiums), or significantly reduce the number of troops.

If there really was a “military-industrial complex”, you would have rarely seen ANY weapon programs closed. Yet, since 2009, over 50 have been killed, and more will probably be targeted for closure in the years to come.

Because there is no “military-industrial complex” in America. It’s a blatant lie.

Shame on those who spread that lie.






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