07/14/2010 04:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Poll, the Paymaster and the Taxpayer

Any time government contractors start seriously vying for congressional dollars, the rest of us are pretty much guaranteed a tawdry good time as we watch them have at it. Even by the dismal standards of Washington pay-to-play politics, though, the shenanigans of defense giant Pratt & Whitney -- fighting tooth and nail to keep a multi-billion dollar jet engine contract to itself -- are something else.

P&W's latest ploy? To commission a public opinion poll asking ludicrously transparent leading questions in an attempt to "prove" that Joe Sixpack would be shocked, shocked to see a competing Joint Fighter engine contract go to its archrival GE.

Let's leave aside for the moment the most evident home truth - which is that Mr. Sixpack has never heard of the Joint Fighter engine, and almost certainly (unless he stands to gain or lose a job over it) holds no meaningful opinion on who, or how many companies, should get to complete it.

The poll findings themselves are the really fun part, because they are clearly designed to arrive at an all-too-obvious predetermined conclusion and somehow create a fantasy world in which Pratt & Whitney is as innocent as a freshly powdered baby's bottom while GE has a heart as black as darkest night.

Some examples:
Voters, we are told, believe a large amount of government spending is wasted.
No surprise there, really, except this is supposed to force us to conclude that only one of the companies should be allowed to complete the Joint Fighter engine. Yup, you guessed it - the one beginning with P.

Voters also want an end to federal budget earmarks that provide funding to special projects benefiting well-connected companies.
Again, low shock value here, except that somehow this is supposed to be an indictment of just one of the two rival companies. Implying what? That Pratt & Whitney is unconnected in Washington?

Voters are less inclined to side with GE when they learn that GE already has large government contracts and are spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and advertisements trying to put pressure on members of Congress.
By this logic, the contract shouldn't go to Pratt & Whitney or GE. It should go to the man operating the wine shop down my street. He may know squat about jet engines, but at least he doesn't employ lobbyists or spend money on, er, bogus opinion polls.

A little background might be in order here. The reason Pratt & Whitney feels so aggrieved is that it has already won the Joint Fighter engine contract. Some members of Congress, though, are not comfortable with Pratt & Whitney holding all the spoil and think that they might end up spending less if they pay GE to build a second, competing engine.

The GAO - the nonpartisan accounting arm of Congress - recently came out in support of the second contract idea, which naturally was a huge feather in GE's cap.

Hence Pratt & Whitney's no holds barred attempt to convince the public that GE is little short of the spawn of Satan.

The problem is, the opinion poll has a few satanic touches of its own. We're supposed to believe it was conducted by something like a good government group trying to relay what's wrong with Washington. But that's just an all too familiar Washington façade. The poll's paymaster is one grasping company trying to make sure its project wins, at the expense of the taxpayer or anyone else who might stand in its way.