Sylvia Panetta said the institute awards honorees “a small amount of money” but declined to say how much. “It’s a little way of saying thank you.”
She said the institute has a general policy of not accepting donations from defense contractors. She said she made an exception for Lockheed Martin because it has contributed financially to the institute for several years.
“These folks have been supporters of ours before Leon became secretary of defense,” she said. “Do you really think they would give us money if they didn’t think we were doing a good job? They like what we’re doing.”
She said other defense contractors have been blocked from donating, but she would not identify them. She declined to release a complete list of donors to the institute but did disclose the 43 corporate and individual sponsors who are contributing at least $5,000 to this year’s dinner.
Lockheed has a history of donating to causes favored by influential lawmakers and government officials, said William D. Hartung, analyst at the Center for International Policy and author of a book about the company.
He said Lockheed gave money to an orchestra in Johnstown, Pa., that was a charity championed by the wife of the late Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a leading lawmaker on military issues. Lockhhed also supported the Trent Lott Leadership Institute at the University of Mississippi, named after the former Republican Senate leader.
“Having the nation’s top defense contractor giving money to an institute named after the sitting secretary of defense doesn’t pass the smell test,” Hartung said.
Spokespersons for Lockheed did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment.
Panetta, a native of the Monterey area, was elected to Congress in 1976 and served eight terms. He then served as President Clinton’s budget director and chief of staff before retiring in 1997, when he co-founded the Panetta Institute with his wife.
The institute, based on the campus of California State University at Monterey Bay, offers a master’s degree program in public policy and sponsors fellowships and internships.