Legs of the Iron Triangle

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In its Friday editions, The New York Times traced the career path of Letitia White, who, after an apprenticeship working on Capitol Hill in the offices of Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., a longserving member and now chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, found work in the private sector as a registered lobbyist. Many of her clients, the Times neatly shows in a nifty graphic, paid her firm tens of thousands for lobbying fees, and will receive many millions in earmarked contracts and grants. Your tax dollars at work. (And I should note that a lot of the digging and research was provided by Taxpayers for Common Sense.)

One of the firms that the Times graphic highlights is General Atomics Aeronautical, which is a subsidiary of General Atomics., paid White’s firm $20,000, and received a $40 million contract for its Predator weapons system, an unmanned, flying drone that is armed with weapons. Perhaps needless to say, the company expended a little more than $20,000 in the effort to get the contract.

The Center for Public Integrity, American Radio Works and Medill University, for example, just co-released report highlighting all-expense paid junkets that General Atomics sponsored for members of Congress and their staffs:

San Diego-based General Atomics largely targeted congressional staff members, spending roughly $660,000 on 86 trips for legislators, aides and their spouses from 2000 to mid-2005, according to an analysis of travel disclosure records by the Center for Public Integrity, American Public Media and Northwestern University’s Medill News Service.

While on trips to Turkey in 2004 and Australia in 2005 — some valued at more than $25,000 — staffers attended meetings with officials of foreign governments being solicited to buy the company’s unmanned spy plane, the Predator.

“[It’s] useful and very helpful, in fact, when you go down and talk to the government officials to have congressional people go along and discuss the capabilities of [the plane] with them,” said Tom Cassidy, chief executive officer of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the company’s aircraft-manufacturing subsidiary.

It’s also worth noting that General Atomics’s employees and their family members have contributed more than $800,000 to political campaigns and committees over the last three election cycles.

Not every firm on the Times’ list was a big contributor or trip sponsor (according to the Center for Responsive Politics, just one employee of Velocys has contributed to campaigns–$200 to the Sierra Club in 2004), but then, not every firm got $40 million contracts. It does show, though, the extent to which in Washington you have to spend money to make money, and that Congress is only too happy to listen to sales pitches.

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