When members of a House subcommittee convene today for a hearing on the troubled F-22 stealth fighter, they’ll have more in common than just an interest in the mysterious symptoms that caused some pilots to declare the plane unsafe to fly earlier this year.
All but one of the 25 subcommittee members have received contributions in the current election cycle from individuals or political action committees associated with Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the F-22, according to a Project On Government Oversight (POGO) analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
The one exception, Pennsylvania Republican Todd R. Platts, is retiring from Congress. In a 2010 op-ed piece, he said that as always his campaign was being funded solely by contributions from individual citizens and that he refused to accept contributions from special-interest groups. There are no records of his ever having accepted any funds from employees of Lockheed Martin during his congressional career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The other subcommittee members received between $1,000 and $10,000 each, for a total of $153,250, according to the POGO analysis (see table below).
On average, members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces have received $6,130 this election cycle from Lockheed employees or political action committees, POGO found.
They weren’t alone.
Of the House’s 435 voting members, 386 received such Lockheed-related contributions, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. However, the average for the subcommittee members exceeded the $4,211 average for all House members by about 46 percent.
Jennifer L. Allen, a Lockheed spokeswoman, told POGO in a statement: “[W]e believe it is critical to have our voice heard on issues that are important to our future.”
Viveca Novak, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics, said Lockheed’s contributions are typical of corporations that have a stake in congressional decisions.
“This is a classic example of one of the unfortunate realities of our system: Members of various congressional committees depend inordinately on campaign contributions from the very interests they are supposed to be overseeing,” Novak said. "If there are problems with this aircraft, will the actions of the lawmakers be tempered by the fact that their campaigns are partially funded by the companies that are making the aircraft?"
Today’s hearing involves one of the Pentagon’s most advanced, expensive, and problem-plagued weapon systems, also known as the Raptor. Titled “F-22 pilot physiological issues,” the hearing focuses on symptoms that temporarily grounded the jet and prompted some pilots to refuse to fly. The symptoms include disorientation that has been compared to oxygen deprivation.
The stakes are high—for the pilots who fly the F-22, for the taxpayers who paid for it, for a nation that may be relying on it, and for all whose reputations are tied to it, from the defense brass who backed the aircraft to the company that built it.
Some analysts question whether the military has gotten to the bottom of the problem, and the hearing will give lawmakers a chance to explore that question.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted most flight restrictions on the F-22 fleet in July, allowing the planes to resume long-duration flights such as the recent deployment of a squadron to Kadena Air Base in Japan.
The Pentagon says it has identified the roots of the trouble—including a malfunctioning valve and pressure vest—and it says it is fixing them. In the meantime, the Defense Department says the jet is prohibited from flying above a certain altitude so that pilots will not need to wear the vest.
Though the government has stopped ordering F-22s, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told an interviewer last weekend that he would add more of them.
In the statement to POGO, the Lockheed spokeswoman said the company “supports a wide range of federal, state and local political leaders based on their level of interest and commitment in national security, homeland security, and other issues of importance to the corporation.”
“With 82% of our company’s sales derived from U.S. government customers, we naturally have interactions with virtually every standing committee in the United States Congress who has oversight authority over the budgets and policies of all Federal agencies and by extension the products and services that Lockheed Martin provides to them,” she added.
POGO sought comment from 11 subcommittee members and received responses from representatives for two of them.
Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who is running for a Senate seat, makes decisions about national defense using “careful analysis that wouldn’t be affected by campaign contributions,” spokesman Steve Taylor said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) “is deeply concerned about the safety of our pilots,” and the contributions “have absolutely nothing to do with his responsibility to ensure the safety of our pilots,” spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said by email.
“The oversight hearing is an opportunity for the Congressman to hold the Air Force and its defense contractors accountable for their safety,” she said.
|W. Todd Akin||$2,000.00||R|
|Average per committee member||$6,130.00|
|Average per House member||$4,211.74|
|Number of committee members who received contributions (out of 25)||24|
|Number of House members who received contributions (out of 435)||386|