House freshmen: Military industrial complex finds an ally in tea party idol Allen West
As an outspoken African American supporter of the tea party, Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., became an icon of the anti-establishment movement and the huge House freshman class that is spawned. In the past, the conservative firebrand has spearheaded efforts to cut wasteful military spending. But in the current budget battle, he's taking a strong stand against the so-called "sequestration" that would trigger automatic defense cuts if Congress and the White House can't come up with other ways to reduce spending. In so doing, West, a military veteran, is championing the interests of his defense contractor donors, who have given more than $56,000 to his campaigns.
"One of the things that seriously concerns me is this dark specter that hangs over our country right now that is called sequestration," West said in a speech on the House floor July 25, citing his own military history for effect. "That would mean that we would hollow out our military force."
Among West's military contractor donors are Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell International, and Boeing Co., many among the nation's top contractors. A number have a strong presence in Florida. One estimate from the military- oriented think tank Center for Security Policy contends that Florida would lose $2.4 billion in revenue yearly if automatic cuts were put in motion.
Hosts listed on an April fundraiser for West include Buzz Hefti, who is on the board of the Center for Security Policy. Hefti has worked in the past as a lobbyist for Boeing and Honeywell, and has held staff positions in Congress and the military. He now lobbies for the firm Van Scoyoc. Also listed is Mike Herson, president and CEO of American Defense International, a lobbying firm. Herson's clients include Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.
Another notable entity playing host at the April fundraiser was Tyco PAC, a Political Action Committee (PAC) representing the interests of a major security company Tyco International, which has given West $5,000. Also a military contractor, the Swiss-based company that was the subject of a major accounting scandal has stated concern about possible Congressional action to restrict government contracting with firms that are based overseas. In June, West attended the dedication of the new American headquarters for ADT, a Tyco subsidiary, in Boca Raton.
The companies that have donated to West have been outspoken in opposition to automatic defense cuts. "The single biggest challenge faced by our company, and by our industry, to which we have no response, is sequestration," Lockheed Martin President and CEO Bob Stevens recently told Flightglobal, an aviation periodical. "There is no strategy, or force reduction, or concept of operations for our nation that is supported by these reductions."
West is also a fierce opponent of tax hikes, and made the rounds last summer to say so to Florida defense contractors, according to this report in the Sun-Sentinel.
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West spoke in defense of Boeing last year, during a controversial case brought against the company by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The complaint was based on evidence that Boeing was moving its production line to retaliate against its Washington workers for past labor strikes. However many Republicans — West included — argued that NLRB can't dictate where companies are allowed to set up shop and claim that cases of this nature would encourage companies to outsource in order to avoid meddlesome restrictions. House Republicans responded by passing the Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act, which would strip the NLRB of much of its power.
In his blog, West explained his support of the bill, stating: "At a time when more than 14 million Americans are unemployed, House Republicans believe that private companies should have the flexibility to develop their businesses in the state that offers the best opportunities for growth, job creation, and stability."
West, who entered Congress in after winning Florida's 22nd Congressional District in a close 2011 election, serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Small Business. The congressman boasts more than two decades of active military service, including participation in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. In 2002, he became the battalion commander of the 220th Field Artillery Battalion, a position under which he violated military code while interrogating a civilian Iraqi police officer and after an investigation, chose to retire.
A staunch voice for Tea Party supporters, West dishes out criticism and is a magnet for the same from Democrats. He has frequently equated Democrats with socialists and communists. In one instance, he was quoted as referring to anyone with an Obama bumper sticker on their car as “a threat to the gene pool.” More recently, he has jumped into the Chick-fil-A controversy, travelling up to Chicago in a public stunt to “open up a Chick-fil-A franchise.” Voting with the Republican party 92 percent of the time, West has opposed nearly every bill supported by the Democrats, rejecting the Affordable Health plan, opting to tighten immigration laws, and proposing looser gun control regulations and lower taxes.
In the 2011 election, West raised and spent more than $6.5 million and was supported by more than $592,000 in outside spending from conservative groups including American Crossroads and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. In comparison, his opponent, Ron Klein, raised $3.8 million and benefited from $550,000 in outside spending.
West's incendiary rhetoric and arch-conservative politics have made him iconic and have translated into massive amounts of financial support. He has raised almost $16.5 million for this year's campaign — an unparalleled amount for members of the freshmen class and more than 16 times the amount gathered by veteran politicans like Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., and Rep. Deniel Webster, R-Fla.
West's top donor is Bank of America with $27,000, followed by $25,000 from Citizens United, the group that brought the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), resulting in a Supreme Court decision that opened the door to unlimited campaign spending by business and labor organizations. The results are evident in West's reelection bid: As the 2012 election approaches, the Tea Party.net Leadership Fund and the Patriot Super PAC have spent thousands in support of West, while liberal PACs such as the House Majority PAC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Credo Super PAC have used their resources to oppose him, according to the Follow the Unlmited Money tracker.
Earlier this year, West made headlines with his announcement that he would be moving to another district for the upcoming election. After the redrawing of the state’s voting districts increased the number of Democrats in the 22nd district and threatened West’s reelection, he packed up and moved to Palm Beach, a part of the 18th congressional district, where his voting constituency is likely to be more politically empathetic.
"Saying Allen West is running away from a fight, it's going to be so easy for him, that's not the case. But Allen West is not a stupid fool either," he said in response to political criticism.