House Republicans are seen during a reconvening of a joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College votes of the 2020 presidential election in the House chamber on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

House Republicans are seen during a reconvening of a joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College votes of the 2020 presidential election in the House chamber on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Getty Images / Greg Nash - Pool

Defense Giants Should Stop Funding Election Deniers

If it turns out that antidemocratic action is not a red line for the defense industry, we need to start asking more serious questions.

Corporations that owe their existence to our public dollars are donating to candidates who oppose democracy. Yes, you read that right.

A new report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington finds that in 2021, military contractors were among the top corporate donors to legislators who refused to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Topping the list was industry giant Boeing, who gave $346,500 to GOP campaign committees or election objectors’ campaigns – and even donated to state attorneys general who worked to overturn the election results. Other major contractors who donated to election denialists include General Dynamics, which gave $233,500; Lockheed Martin, $205,000; L3Harris, $173,000; Northrop Grumman, $151,000; and Raytheon, $150,500.

As Roll Call reported this week, the presence of Boeing, Lockheed, and Northrop on the list is notable since those companies paused political donations after the Jan. 6 insurrection. They quietly restarted them, however, and now fund politicians who take flagrantly antidemocratic stances. Last month, The Hill noted that General Dynamics, Lockheed, and Raytheon had even donated to Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-TX, who published an op-ed that fraudulently claimed “the election was stolen from President Trump” and called for overturning the results. Denialist recipients of defense industry dollars aren’t just House Republicans, though. They also include rising GOP figures like Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who holds a powerful position on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The influence of military contractors is a topic of considerable debate in Washington and in recent years there has been growing attention to corporate funding of think tanks, policy conferences, and yes, political campaigns. Views on the subject range from outright denial of contractor influence to deep concern that corporate power is undermining U.S. foreign policy. The debate is frequently heated. But one would hope that even those who doubt corporate money affects policymaking would be bothered by contractor endorsement of insurrectionary politicians. Giving money to legislators who want to overturn election results is not participation in the democratic process, but subversion of it. Adherence to basic democratic principles—like accepting an obvious and well-documented election loss—should become a prerequisite for receiving industry dollars.

Contractor PACs pride themselves on “non-partisan political engagement,” however, and apparently worry that excluding antidemocratic Republicans from donations might cause the appearance of bias toward the Democrats. After all, well over 100 House Republicans refused to certify the 2020 election; not funding their campaigns would undoubtedly affect the delicate bipartisan balance favored by the defense industry. Oddly enough, though, the contractors themselves have already proposed—and briefly enacted—a suitable compromise: simply stop donating to all politicians, regardless of party. This was their approach in the immediate wake of Jan. 6 and it could easily be re-implemented—permanently. 

Refuse to fund insurrectionary legislators or exit the campaign donation world entirely: these are the two sensible options available to the defense industry. The contractors could enact either one of them immediately – and they absolutely should. But if it turns out antidemocratic action is not a red line for the defense industry, we need to start asking more serious questions. Why does the industry seem unconcerned by the spread of authoritarian sentiment in Congress? Why are military contractors willing to fund politicians who oppose the will of the people? Does the defense industry value increased profits over democracy itself?

The last question is key. President Biden just signed another massive military budget, this time with a top line figure of $768 billion, tens of billions higher than the amount he actually requested. Since the National Defense Authorization Act is regarded—dubiously—as a must-pass bill, Biden likely signed it with little hesitation. Politicians from both parties will sing its praises in the coming days, probably while speaking reverently about the sacrifices of U.S. servicepeople. 

What legislators will not say, however, is that half of the military budget goes not to “the troops” but to private industry, particularly giant corporations like Boeing and Northrop. Indeed, most military contractors would cease to exist without annual injections of public dollars. Huge percentages of their revenue come from our own pocket: 69 percent in the case of General Dynamics, 74 percent for Lockheed, and a whopping 84 percent for Northrop. Boeing’s percentage may not be quite as egregious (37.5 percent) but it is still more than a third of their business. 

Contractors fund widely in Congress because bipartisan support for the NDAA is essential for maintaining their livelihoods. A constantly rising budget means higher profits, higher executive compensation, and an expanding docket of new contracts. We should not be surprised that these capitalist enterprises are ultimately motivated by profit-seeking. The problem is that raw economic logic may compel them not to take action, since insurrectionary legislators are reliably pro-NDAA and several sit on key congressional committees. Refusing to fund their campaigns could imperil the industry’s supply of public dollars, making it a distinct possibility that the contractors will instead choose the path of least resistance and allow antidemocratic reaction to fester. 

This does not bode well for the future of liberal democracy in the United States. Allowing the pursuit of profit to override democratic principles will help normalize and expand authoritarian attitudes in Congress. We should all hope that the defense industry, if only to stave off bad press, chooses to implement one of the two options above. If not, though, it’s fair to ask: which side are they on?