The nation's top 10 defense contractors more than tripled their campaign contributions to members of Congress between 1980 and 1986, paying out a record $2.9 million during last year's congressional campaigns, according to a new study released yesterday by the lobbying group Common Cause.
In addition, the study shows, the defense contractors have dramatically increased their payments of honorarium fees to federal lawmakers in recent years. In 1981, such payments by the 10 leading contractors totaled $26,100. By 1985, these payments had jumped nine times to $236,163, with more than three-fourths of that, or $182,100, going to members of four congressional committees that determine the size and content of the Pentagon budget.
The leading recipients, according to Common Cause, included Rep. William L. Dickinson (R-Ala.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who received $32,500 in defense contractor honorariums between 1981 and 1985, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), a member of the defense appropriations subcommittee, who received $29,000, and Rep. Bill Chappell (D-Fla.), also a member of defense appropriations, who received $26,500.
"What this shows is that defense contractors really are zeroing in with all of their resources on a relatively few members of Congress with good results," Common Cause President Fred Wertheimer said. "The overall picture is one where it is exceedingly difficult for Congress to exercise independent judgment on military issues . . . . There are simply too many financial resources being brought to bear on the U.S. government."
Wertheimer called the growth in honorariums "very, very disturbing" because, unlike campaign contributions, the money goes directly into lawmakers' pockets.
But one industry official, Michael Burch, McDonnell Douglas' vice president for public affairs and a former assistant secretary of defense, defended the increase in honorarium payments, saying "a greater number of congressmen and senators are visiting our facilities and as part of that they have come to expect a fee." He said the visits by members of Congress are good for employe morale and therefore increased industry productivity.
Burch also said it is unfair to single out the defense industry. "This is kind of the accepted way of doing business and nothing we do has violated the law," he said.
The 110-page study, entitled "Top Guns," was written by former Common Cause research associate Philip J. Simon. It surveys a wide range of lobbying activities by the contractors that had the largest volume of defense contracts during fiscal year 1986: McDonnell Douglas, General Dynamics, Lockheed, Rockwell, General Electric, Boeing, Hughes Aircraft, Grumman, Raytheon and United Technologies.
These firms, the study said, had Washington offices with an average of 74 employes, compared to an average of less than 20 employes in Washington offices of the top 20 nondefense U.S. corporations.
The study also details examples of the revolving-door relationship between the contractors and ex-members of Congress who served on key military committees, citing eight cases of former lawmakers who work directly or as consultants for contractors.
These include Richard H. Ichord (D-Mo.), a former House Armed Services subcommittee chairman, Bob Wilson (R-Calif.), former ranking Republican on the Armed Services panel, both of whom now lobby for Hughes Aircraft, Ronald (Bo) Ginn (D-Ga.), a former defense appropriations subcommittee member who now lobbies for Lockheed and Rockwell, and Don Fuqua (D-Fla.), the former chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, now president of the Aerospace Industries Association.