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Goodies for big givers in immigration bill

by Keenan Steiner and Peter Olsen-Phillips

Black Hawk helicopter

Today's Washington Post report about the goodies for defense contractors in the the immigration bill that the Senate passed last week sent us digging through some of our favorite databases for clues. Just what inspired the lawmakers to make the unusual move of explicitly designating the expensive equipment the government should buy with the $4.5 billion the bill authorizes for beefed up border security.

The bill’s unusually specific language means four defense contractors will not have to deal with the uncertainties associated with the standard bidding process for federal contracts. While it won't be known until late July if these companies will report lobbying on the Senate bill (that's when their quarterly lobbying reports are due), Influence Explorer data reveals that all are serious players on K Street and major contributors of campaign cash.  Here's the lowdown.

Northrop Grumman, which builds the airborne radar systems that the Senate bill orders up (a total of six at $9.3 million each), has given more money to federal candidates than any other defense contractor and is No. 9 on the Center for Responsive Politics' list of all-time biggest lobbying tabs. As of the end of last year, Northrop Grumman had spent more than $191 million trying to influence Congress and the company's political action committee and employees had made a whopping $17 million in campaign contributions, the company's Influence Explorer profile shows. During the 2012 campaign cycle, Northrop Grumman and its employees gave about $500,000 to Senate candidates, and more than $46,000 each to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

United Technologies Corp., the parent company of Connecticut-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., outpaced its competitors in the defense industry during the first quarter of this year with $4.7 million in lobbying expenses. The immigration bill orders up 15 of the famed Black Hawk helicopters that Sikorsky manufacturers at a cost of $17 million apiece.  Over the years, United Technologies has been responsible for more than $10 million in campaign contributions and more than $100 million in lobbying expenditures, according to the company's profile on Influence Explorer. In 2012, the United Technologies PAC gave $220,000 to Senate candidates and about $30,000 to each of the party's Senate campaign committees. Former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., has served as a member of the UT lobbying team.

Textron, owner of Bell Helicopter (the Senate immigration bill orders 17), has generated $7.6 million in campaign contributions and a lobbying tab of more than $73 million, according to Influence Explorer. The company's PAC and employees gave more than $134,000 to Senate candidates last year, and about $40,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.. Textron's Capitol Hill team includes uber-lobbyist Tony Podesta, a frequent host of fundraisers for members of Congress.

EADS North America, the parent company of American Eurocopter (the Senate immigration bill orders the purchase of eight), has spent about t $800,000 lobbying this year.  Since the late 1990s, it has spent $19 million lobbying and its PAC and employees have made more than $1.1 million in campaign contributions, Influence Explorer shows. One member of the EADS lobbying team, Kirk Blalock, has been a particularly active fundraising host for Senate candidates, records on Sunlight's Political Party Time show. Last year EADs employees gave about $75,000 to Senate candidates.

All told, the four companies through their political action committees and employees gave just over $937,000 in campaign contributions to Senate candidates in the 2012 cycle, an amount dwarfed by the potential gains in the immigration bill -- an amount north of $334 million, according to the figures in the Washington Post story.

The specific designation of funds for companies in the immigration legislation roused protests from some members of Congress: "Taxpayer funds should enhance border security, not provide border stimulus for contractors," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

(Photo credit: Sgt. Travis Zielinski, U.S. Army, via Wikimedia)