Click here to join POGO's
By MIA STEINLE
The members of Congress with the most influence over nuclear weapons have received $2.9 million in campaign contributions this election cycle from defense contractors involved in the nuclear weapons lobby, according to a new report from the Center for International Policy. The contractors have given these members $18.7 million over the course of their tenures in Congress.
The report calls for the cancellation of two costly Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear facilities, the postponement of the Air Force’s new nuclear bomber, and the reduction of the Navy’s ballistic missile submarine force. While the report calculates that these changes will yield taxpayers a savings of $46 billion over the next two decades, it says that “any effort to downsize the nation’s nuclear force is likely to be met with fierce opposition from the individuals and institutions that benefit from the nuclear status quo.”
Among those who benefit from the status quo are the contractors that manage two DOE nuclear facilities highlighted in the report—the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility and the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. The contractors connected to the two facilities contributed more than $240,000 to members of Congress during the 2012 election cycle and nearly $2.3 million over the course of the members’ tenures in Congress.
Both facilities subsequently received funding from the House and Senate in their FY 2013 defense bills, even though the FY 2013 appropriations bills defund or reduce funding for both facilities. POGO and other nuclear weapons experts have argued for years that these facilities serve no legitimate purpose and need to be halted before more money is wasted.
As the report notes, nuclear contractor lobbying efforts target legislators with the most power and the most at stake. Many of the top congressional recipients of these funds are members of the subcommittees that oversee nuclear weapons or defense funding, such as Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who fought hard last month to appropriate extra funds to a troubled nuclear project. And some of them represent districts that are home to nuclear facilities, such as Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), sometimes known as the “Representative from Boeing.”
The report focuses on 14 nuclear weapons contractors, all of which were among the top 100 federal contractors in FY 2012. While the report highlights the fact that some of these contractors have "multiple roles" in the nuclear weapons complex--for instance, contractor Babcock & Wilcox operates five major nuclear facilities--it is unclear how much of a contractor's lobbying contribution was specifically intended to sway votes on nuclear issues, as opposed to the dozens of other defense, construction or energy issues these companies also seek to influence.
Not all legislators appeared to be swayed by these funds. For instance, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of one of the key nuclear weapons subcommittees, is also the top recipient of nuclear contractor funds in the Senate. But, as the report notes, Feinstein is “one of the keenest critics” of the agency that oversees nuclear weapons and has repeatedly questioned the agency’s oversight of recent major projects.
It remains to be seen if Feinstein, like her appropriations subcommittee and President Obama did before her, will ultimately push to cut funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility. No doubt she will be hugely influential in this year's final negotiations over funding this plutonium money pit, which may very well may be the acid test for where her interests lie.
The report also looked at the number of nuclear contractors who have gone through the revolving door. Of the 14 nuclear contractors it focused on, the report found 137 lobbyists who are former government employees, including 19 who worked for members of key nuclear weapons spending committees in Congress. As the report notes, there is the danger of lobbyists receiving “special treatment” from former colleagues who may, in turn, be less aggressive working with contractors they view as “potential future employers.”
“The bottom line is that the level of nuclear weapons spending and the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be determined based on strategic decisions about how best to defend the country, not on pork barrel politics,” according to the report. “There is too much at stake to let narrow special interests trump the national interest when it comes to making decisions on nuclear weapons spending and policy.”
Mia Steinle is a POGO investigator.