Big Money Mitch and BAE Systems

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Although earmarks make up a small amount of the federal budget, they are also the locus of many of the backroom deals between politicians and lobbyists that have corrupted Washington in recent years. This is especially true for congressional leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is better than almost anyone else at getting his way when it comes to inserting language into appropriations bills.

McConnell has requested many earmarks throughout his career, but none may be as infamous as a $23.6 million set-aside he lined up in 2007 for British defense contractor BAE Systems.[1]  At the time, the company was under investigation by the Justice Department for a “longstanding, widespread pattern of bribery allegations,” including a slush fund with hundreds of millions of dollars intended to buy influence with Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan. And in 2002, BAE and another defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, agreed to pay the Justice Department $6.2 million to settle a case involving defective equipment they sold to the Navy.

If it isn’t clear why McConnell would go to bat for a foreign company suspected of bribing the Saudi government and selling worthless goods, a look at the senator’s campaign finance disclosure data may help explain: McConnell has taken at least $60,000 in campaign donations from BAE's political action committees and employees since his 2002 re-election.[2]  One of them, vice president for homeland defense Mike Seale, has given McConnnell $21,500 and believes he has gotten his money’s worth. “It isn’t partisan,” Seale said. “If a Democratic senator had supported our factory the way Sen. McConnell has, I’d have given to his campaigns, too.”[3]

1. John Cheves, “McConnell Marks Funds for Contractor,” The Lexington Herald-Tribune, October 27, 2007.
2. Campaign finance and lobbying figures are based on Campaign Money Watch analysis of data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan organization that tracks and codes campaign finance data by industry and tracks lobbying. Campaign finance data include individual contributions ($200+) and from Political Action Committees (PACs) to campaign committees and leadership PACs. Data for the 2008 cycle were downloaded in October 2008.
3. John Cheves, “Slashing of McConnell Earmarks Demanded,” The Lexington Herald-Leader, November 2, 2007.