The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Defense contracts are hard to kill. Does that show up in lobbying totals?

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Over the weekend, my colleague Marjorie Censer published a story that tells us a lot about why the U.S. military costs so much: Legislators won't let the people in uniform spend less money, even when expensive programs outlive their usefulness. In this case, it's the iconic tank, which BAE Systems has built in York, Pa., since the 1960s. Though modern warfare requires more long-range systems like drones and missiles than overwhelming force on the ground, Congress has continued to give the Army more money than it's even asked for to keep building expeditionary fighting vehicles.

Legislators say they don’t want the money they’ve invested in building up the country’s vehicle-making capability to go to waste. The several hundred million dollars it would cost seems to them a small amount relative to the billions spent on defense annually.
The industry, too, has pushed Congress to support its work. Last year, BAE convened its suppliers — it has 586 across 44 states — in Washington to storm the Hill, chatting up representatives about the jobs they provide and pushing for Congress to help the Bradley program.

So it appears, from this one example of procurement stickiness, that investments in lobbying can pay off for a long time. But does that show up in the numbers?

To find out, using the database, I compared money spent on lobbying with money awarded in contracts for the biggest arms manufacturers (for procurement totals, click on their names).

BAE Systems' contracts fell off sharply after 2008, but its lobbying declined more slowly: 

Northrop Grumman took a rest after 2008 but then tried to resuscitate its business:

Lockheed Martin actually did better than its lobbying expenditures would suggest:

Same with Boeing:

General Dynamics, though, continued to spend even after its contracts declined:

There's some variation, but overall it appears that the amount of money a company spends on lobbying correlates roughly with how much it pulls down in contracts -- and that lobbying continues even after contracting dollars start to fall, not the other way around. So while there may be lots of examples of programs sticking around because of resistance to taking away jobs, in the aggregate, it doesn't amount to contracts being renewed simply out of inertia (recognizing that these are very top-line numbers and lots of other factors may be at play, including the amount these companies spend on elections).