WASHINGTON ― Defense companies have slowly ramped up their political donations to the Republicans they once purported to shun over a refusal to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win, according to recent Federal Election Commission filings.
The reversal follows a pledge by dozens of American corporations in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection to suspend political contributions, some specifically targeting Republicans who rejected Donald Trump’s election loss. As many of those firms returned to political giving in the first fiscal quarter of 2022, the defense industry has followed suit.
“In response to the deeply disturbing violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, our U.S. political action committee has suspended all donations while we assess the path forward,” BAE Systems spokeswoman Tammy Thorp said in a statement at the time.
But BAE began to reverse course on March 30 and has since given $195,000 to Democrats and Republicans alike. Its employee-supported PAC gave $15,000 on April 30 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, led by one of eight GOP senators who voted to decertify election results: Senate Armed Services Committee member Rick Scott, of Florida.
BAE declined to comment for this story and referred Defense News to its FEC filings.
Public filings aggregated by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, and corroborated by Defense News, showed that the PACs for at least six of the ten major U.S. defense firms that announced in January they would reexamine political donations have quietly given money to candidates of both parties.
Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Leidos and BAE are all giving again, while Honeywell, General Electric, Raytheon and Booz Allen Hamilton are not giving, according to their most recent filings. Honeywell and GE had said they would suspend donations to the 147 members of Congress who voted against certifying Biden’s win.
In the weeks after the Jan. 6 riot, ten of the top U.S. defense firms said in some way they would be pausing political giving, most for both parties. Lockheed’s corporate statement at the time didn’t touch on the events, saying only the company “routinely evaluates and updates our political action committee contribution strategy to reflect our core values and the constantly changing political landscape and priorities.”
In April, Lockheed donated $150,000, with $30,000 donations for each of the main Republican and Democratic congressional party committees, which have discretion to spend money on any candidates in their chamber and party. Lockheed’s individual contributions included $1,000 for SASC member Tommy Tuberville, of Alabama, who voted against certifying the election results ― as well as $1,000 each for Reps. Jim Banks, Ralph Norman, Bill Timmons and Bill Johnson, who joined a Texas lawsuit challenging Biden’s electoral victory in several states.
“Following the customary ‘start of a new cycle’ evaluation of our political engagement program, our PAC program will continue to observe long-standing principles of non-partisan political engagement in support of our business interests,” Lockheed said in a statement to Defense News on Friday.
After Jan. 6, Leidos chief executive Roger Krone said its PAC would temporarily halt all political donations, adding: “Violence, lawlessness, and anarchy have no place in our nation. We believe in civil political discourse and the fundamental right to peacefully protest, but strongly condemn violence or intimidation.”
The $24,000 the PAC gave three months later included $1,000 each for Banks and Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Trent Kelly, who also joined the Texas lawsuit and objected to Congress’ certification of the election.
“In response to the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, Leidos Political Action Committee (PAC) donations were paused,” a Leidos spokesman said in a statement to Defense News. “The Leidos PAC has since adopted a values criterion as part of its Candidate Giving Strategy, which adds integrity and character as criterion. With this new criterion in place, the Leidos PAC resumed political donations in Q2 FY2021.”
Boeing, in a statement after the Jan. 6 riot, said the company “strongly condemns the violence, lawlessness and destruction,” and that it would pause political giving and would ensure future contributions “uphold our country’s most fundamental principles.” Still, Boeing’s political giving resumed in early May, though it isn’t yet reflected in public filings.
“We will continue to carefully evaluate our giving to ensure that we support candidates who support our business and policy priorities as well as the interests of our customers, diverse workforce, and the communities where we live and work,” a Boeing spokesperson said in a statement.
A handful of defense lobbyists, who were given anonymity to speak about a politically sensitive topic, said there’s been a slow return to business as usual and predict PACs will make up for the hiatus over the course of the two-year election cycle. Some firms ― after making a statement by halting contributions for the first fiscal quarter ― are under significant pressure to reengage, through donations, with the lawmakers that have influence over their industry.
One of the top primes, General Dynamics, made no public pledge to suspend giving and has been prolific, with nearly $400,000 in political spending since mid-February, according to public filings.
“If you’re Lockheed Martin and 94% of your revenue comes from the federal government, you don’t have a choice,” one lobbyist said. “You’re actually not serving your shareholders well if you stop making political contributions.”
Though lobbyists said that companies getting back in the giving game are avoiding some of the GOP’s most extreme voices, corporate influence matters less than it once did. An explosion of direct online contributions from individual donors has rewarded lawmakers like SASC member Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who was the first senator to announce he would object to the election results.
“I’ve said I’m not going to take any corporate PAC contributions,” Hawley told Defense News. “I just think that these mega corporations have got too much influence over the Republican Party, and increasingly what they want, in terms of policy, is not good for the country. I don’t see any reason to give them any more influence.”
Along similar lines, Scott, the senator who chairs the NRSC, said that so far this year the committee had raised $290,000 in small donations, but also a significant amount from PACs. Asked about the defense industry’s return to political giving, Scott seemed happy to accept.
“I reach out to everybody to raise money for the NRSC. I’m a full-service chairman,” he said.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.