WASHINGTON - Defense lobbyists spent nearly $750,000 to help honor Obama
administration officials during the first six months of the year,
accounting for nearly half of the payments made then, a USA TODAY
analysis of federal data shows.
Lockheed Martin, followed by three other defense contractors -BAE Systems, TriWest Healthcare Alliance and General Dynamics-
reported spending the most. In many cases, the companies underwrote
charity events in which the military's top brass or other key federal
officials were honored or in attendance.
Overall, all lobbyists reported spending more
than $1.6 million in the category of honorary expenses connected to
executive branch officials between Jan. 1 and June 30. By comparison,
lobbyists reported spending $2.3 million during the first six months of
2008, when President George W. Bush was in the White House. Defense contractors also topped the giving then, spending $1.8 million.
The spending, which is legal, represents another
way for contractors to build relationships with the officials who have
sway over their industry, said Melanie Sloan,
executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in
Washington. "Most of their business is with the government," Sloan
said. "Spending $50,000 is nothing if it warms up people to give them
the next $100 million contract."
The analysis examined reports that lobbyists are
required to file with Congress detailing donations to non-profit groups
associated with public officials or payments made for events held in
their honor. It did not include an additional $700,000 related to
inaugural celebrations that lobbyists disclosed in separate reports.
Lockheed spent nearly $190,000 - including a $50,000 payment to the National Defense University that lists Gen. David Petraeus,
the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, as the honoree and
another $50,000 to the Coast Guard Foundation for a dinner attended by
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Lockheed is the top recipient of Defense Department contracts. Last month, the company was awarded an $821 million contract to service Homeland Security surveillance planes.
Lockheed spokesman Jeff Adams said the payments
reflect the company's long support for worthy causes. "We secure our
contracts through the federal acquisition processes," he added, "not
through the intervention of government officials."
spokesman Erik Gunhus said the general has received awards at dinners
recently but knew nothing of lobbyists' contributions to groups hosting
the events and accepts no speaking fees.
Napolitano spokesman Matt Chandler said the
secretary did nothing more than attend a dinner hosted by a Coast
Guard-related non-profit and was "unaware of the contribution."
Overall, lobbyists and their employers reported
more than $430,000 in expenses that list President Obama as an honoree.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said the administration "has not
authorized any corporations to make a contribution in the name of an
administration official." In many cases, he added, the officials listed
on lobbyists' reports either attended an event or spoke before a
non-profit group and had "no contact with the event's corporate
In some cases, top officials were at the center
of the celebrations. Tyson Foods, for instance, reported a $10,000
payment in June to the Iowa Democratic Party for an event at which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, was inducted into the party's hall of fame.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company
was one of multiple sponsors underwriting the June event. Some company
officials "spent a matter of seconds greeting" Vilsack,
Mickelson added, but "none had an extended conversation with him."
Chris Mather, Vilsack's spokeswoman, said the secretary "had no idea
who would be there or who the sponsors would be." Vilsack's decisions,
she said, "are not based on contributions."
Contributing: Paul Overberg, Brad Heath and Seung Min Kim