Defense industry bucks its tradition with donations to Clinton. Clinton is crushing Trump in campaign donations from employees working for defense giants like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
By Austin Wright and Jeremy Herb
Aug. 24, 2016
“In the case of Trump vs. Clinton, defense executives see the same thing in Trump that people in other industries and the media see, which is that he’s a totally unknown quantity, and that’s scary,” said industry consultant Loren Thompson.
The nation’s top defense contractors have long been a bastion of support for Republican candidates for office. But this time, they’re with Hillary Clinton. The Democratic presidential nominee is leading Republican rival Donald Trump by a ratio of 2-to-1 in campaign donations from employees working for defense giants like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
That’s a sharp turnaround from 2012, when defense contractors gave more to then-Republican nominee Mitt Romney than to President Barack Obama. It’s also a departure from recent decades, in which the industry overall favored Republican congressional and presidential candidates in eight of the past 10 election cycles, with Democrats getting more in 2008 and 2010.
Since Trump locked up the Republican nomination three months ago, employees of 25 of the nation’s largest defense companies have donated $93,000 to Clinton, compared with $46,000 for Trump, according to a POLITICO review of filings with the Federal Election Commission. Clinton’s donor rolls also include more than two dozen top defense executives, while Trump’s show just two. Donors with ties to Pentagon contractors may simply be betting Clinton will win.
But some say they are concerned about Trump’s pronouncements on national security, which have included skepticism about NATO’s role in countering Russia, and they fear he will follow through on his pledge to upend business as usual in Washington. “I’ve worked with Republicans and Democrats of all stripes over the years,” said Linda Hudson, who ran the U.S. branch of British defense firm BAE Systems, the Pentagon’s eighth largest contractor, from 2009 to 2014. “And it’s the first time I’ve seen one who scares the hell out of me if he were to become president.”
Hudson, who’s given $5,400 to the Clinton campaign this election cycle, said she considers herself a Democrat but has contributed in the past to lawmakers in both political parties who have strong positions on defense issues. Her biggest problem with Trump, she explained, is that “he appears to have no impulse control.”
On the stump, the real estate mogul and reality television star has repeatedly criticized defense contractors and their lobbyists for exerting undue influence on government spending. Clinton, meanwhile, was an ally to some of them when she was in the Senate and served on the Armed Services Committee. “My view is Hillary is far more aligned with the types of issues that are important to the defense industry than Trump is,” Hudson said.
Officially, defense firms are trying to avoid taking sides in this year’s race for the White House — with most of their corporate political action committees contributing to House and Senate candidates but not to the Clinton or Trump campaigns.
But that hasn’t stopped many of their top executives from making their preferences known through individual contributions. And those preferences skew toward Clinton, who defense watchers say offers what weapons makers crave most: predictability. “In the case of Trump vs. Clinton, defense executives see the same thing in Trump that people in other industries and the media see, which is that he’s a totally unknown quantity, and that’s scary,” said industry consultant Loren Thompson, who plans to vote for the former secretary of State. A number of big names in defense circles have opened their checkbooks for Clinton. They include former Lockheed Martin CEO Robert Stevens; Edward Kangas, who chairs the board of directors at United Technologies; Pam Wickham, the vice president for corporate affairs and communications at Raytheon; John Casey, who leads the Marine Systems division at General Dynamics; Vivek Lall, a senior executive at General Atomics; and Frank Ruggiero, the top in-house lobbyist at BAE Systems, among others.
Many of Clinton’s defense industry donors have longstanding ties to the Democratic Party, including Greta Lundeberg, Boeing’s vice president for strategy and advocacy and a former National Security Council staffer in the Obama administration; and Robert Hale, an adviser at Booz Allen Hamilton who was the Pentagon’s comptroller under Obama. Others have histories of giving to both political parties, including Gregory Walters, a senior in-house lobbyist at Lockheed Martin, who also contributed this year to Republican Rep. Kay Granger of the Texas congressional district where Lockheed assembles its F-35 fighter jet. At least four other in-house lobbyists at Lockheed have given to Clinton.
In contrast, Trump’s donor rolls include just two senior executives at major defense firms, according to POLITICO’s analysis. Scott Feeney, the director of international government relations at Rockwell Collins, has given $225 this year to the Trump campaign, and Jennifer Gallagher, listed as a senior manager for government relations at Raytheon, has given $250. Feeney did not respond to a request for comment, and Gallagher declined through a spokesman to comment.
One Republican defense lobbyist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said he has to preserve relationships on both sides of the aisle, said the defense “community is just much more comfortable with Clinton.” The lobbyist said he plans to vote for Clinton in what will be his first vote ever for a Democratic presidential candidate. “With Hillary Clinton we have some sense of where she would go, and with Trump we have none,” the lobbyist said. “He knows nothing about the system.”
The lobbyist also speculated that some defense executives might be contributing to Clinton — who has a polling advantage over Trump in all the key battleground states — because they believe she’s going to win. Asked to comment, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign pointed out that defense contributions make up a small fraction of overall fundraising totals. The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Some of the defense contractors named in this article declined to comment, while others noted that they have no control over the individual political contributions of their employees. “As a corporation we have a longstanding practice of not participating in presidential election campaigns,” said Lockheed spokesman William Phelps. “Any contributions made by our employees is personal and not associated with the corporation.”
In all, Trump’s campaign has received $55,000 in contributions from employees of the 25 major defense contractors, compared to $273,000 for Clinton — a 5-to-1 advantage. These totals do represent a small amount of the hundreds of millions of dollars raised overall by the campaigns, but they’re indicative of trends in an industry that depends on government contracts for its revenues.
The totals only include contributions from individuals who have given more than $200, as the campaigns are not required to itemize smaller donations. This lopsided ratio is a reversal from 2012, when Romney brought in $1.4 million from defense PACs and industry employees, edging out Obama, who bought in $1.2 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. “All the people I know in the industry who are actively involved in the campaigns are on the Clinton side,” said Thompson, the defense industry consultant. “Clinton has been in public life for decades, her priorities are well understood, and many senior executives in the defense industry know her personally.”