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Defense Spending: There's No Better Way to Talk About the Corrosive Effect of Money on Politics

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Co-authored by John Amick

The premise of a functioning democracy is that elected officials are trusted to make decisions based on the best interest of his or her constituents. Yet the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex is a case study on how this relationship can be turned on its head by the influence of money.

For example, Brave New Foundation’s War Costs campaign just released two new videos highlighting the supreme hyperbolic rhetoric that officials peddle to keep taxpayer money flowing into the Pentagon. These officials and loyal Pentagon-spending defenders cry that the sky is falling and that potential cuts would cause irreparable pain for national security, jobs, soldiers (Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs programs and military personnel are exempt from sequestration cuts -- which may be news to Mitt Romney considering his speech to the American Legion Wednesday), and on and on despite the extraordinary examples of careless waste and profiteering the Pentagon budget symbolizes.

How is this system allowed to persist? How does Lockheed Martin CEO Robert Stevens -- who made $25 million in 2011 -- say with a straight face that cutting the Pentagon budget to 2006 levels (a time of two wars and record profits for industry!) would cause “blunt force trauma” to the arms/defense industry?

It’s not difficult to see how the money hasn’t stopped despite myriad embarrassing -- and deadly -- results in Iraq and Afghanistan: It’s about lobbying and a rapidly-rotating revolving door between industry, the Pentagon and Congress.

Consider how the Iron Triangle -- a graph that follows the flow of money and favors between Congress, the bureaucracy and industry -- works (starting at no particular point): 

-  The defense industry makes sure their defenders on Capitol Hill, like House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), are well taken care of come election season via campaign contributions. 

-  Congress routinely approves incredible amounts of money for the Pentagon budget despite evidence of vase amounts of waste; for example, the Pentagon has not been subject to an audit ever since a 1990 law required one of every government agency. Why? Because it would never pass.

-  The Pentagon showers industry with contracts despite consistent cost overruns, bad business practices that lead to canceled contracts (of which the companies have nevertheless kept $50 billion of in the last decade) and rampant contractor misconduct; defense companies received $373 billion in contracts from U.S. taxpayers in 2011, a near record total and over twice what all troops in the military got in 2011, the second consecutive year of record revenue and profit for industry; Lockheed Martin alone has quadrupled its profits in the last decade of two American wars. Top defense industry CEO pay averages at $21.5 million a year, by the way.

-  Companies take what they've been given by the government, and the revenues they've made from that funding, and start the cycle all over again, using that money on lobbying for … more money. Defense industry lobbying expenditures, used on members of Congress, are on the rise; the top three -- Lockheed MartinBoeing and Northrop Grumman have combined for about $25 million so far in 2012, according to OpenSecrets.org.

This cycle includes other variables as well, like lax congressional and Pentagon regulation and oversight of industry, and a Congress open to enacting Pentagon policy preferences --; the Pentagon lobbies Congress, too.

And this all goes without mentioning the toxic practice in Washington known as the revolving door between government and industry. A Boston Globe report from two years ago showed that “from 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives.” In recent years, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have acquired top defense company employees -- who received highly generous parting bonuses from their former employers, Lockheed and Northrop Grumman -- to help lead oversight of the very industries they came from and are seemingly indebted to.

How is this acceptable? The fox is not just in the henhouse; it's more like the fox bought the henhouse and the hens don't really care.

War Costs will expose more profiteering and more revolving-door abuse in the coming months. Let us know what you think is important for War Costs to investigate. Visit us at WarCosts.com or on Facebook for more. 

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