Most intelligence-related spending by the U.S. government is subject to independent scrutiny and monitoring by a small number of people — primarily, the 40 lawmakers assigned to the House and Senate intelligence committees, plus the roughly 100-member staffs of those two committees.
The lawmakers are meant to provide a key check on waste, fraud, abuse, and potential illegalities, since intelligence-related spending and activities are ordinarily well outside the public’s view.
According to a new report, however, every single one of those lawmakers has received campaign funds from twenty of the largest contractors providing intelligence services to the Defense Department, which accounted for a signficant portion of the nation’s overall $75.4 billion intelligence budget in 2012.
The total, election-related benefits for current intelligence committee members, including ex-officio members, provided by companies in the industry they directly oversee amount to at least $3.7 million from the companies' PACs and employees since 2005, according to the report released Dec. 9 by Maplight.org, a nonpartisan group that investigates campaign finance issues.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the House committee’s highest-ranking Democrat, received the most from the contractors: $363,600, including $124,350 from Northrop Grumman, mostly from the company’s PAC, top executives and lobbyists. Ruppersberger is one of the “Gang of Eight” top legislators who routinely receive the most-detailed reports on intelligence among congressional members.
His Maryland district includes the National Security Agency, now routinely in the news due to Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the distant and controversial reach of its surveillance. Ruppersberger has called Snowden a traitor. In an interview with a Maryland paper last month, he said about the NSA’s PRISM data-mining effort that “we can’t afford to lose this program.” He did not respond to several requests for comment about the contributions.
Another Maryland legislator on the intelligence committee, Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, received $210,150 from the companies, the second-highest total among intelligence committee members. Mikulski is also the chairwoman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which funds most government programs, including those related to intelligence.
Other top intelligence committee recipients from the contractors included Reps. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J. ($205,345) and James Langevin, D-R.I. ($200,850), who also serve on the House Armed Services Committee. LoBiondo is the second-highest ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee and has been on Armed Services since 2003. Langevin is the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Intelligence Subcommittee.
Overall, Democrats and Republicans received nearly the same amount over the period studied, Maplight said
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a senior intelligence committee member who has been an outspoken critic of the NSA, in contrast received $24,500 from intelligence-related Pentagon contractors during the study period, placing him near the bottom among the current members. Sen. Jay Rockfeller, D.-W.V. a former chairman of the committee, also received relatively little from the companies, $36,100, mostly from the PACs of Lockheed and Honeywell during his last election in 2008. In October, Rockefeller opposed a Wyden amendment that would have disclosed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court findings of constitutional violations. Rockefeller has announced his retirement at the end of the session.
Defense industry giant Lockheed Martin, which provides many intelligence services for the military, including analysts, interrogators and translators, accounted for the largest flow of funds to the committees’ members, totaling $798,910. The company’s donations to the committees’ current members almost tripled during the seven years examined by Maplight, from $38,410 in 2005 to $105,500 so far this year.
It’s not clear from the report whether the contractors’ overall contributions to committee members have been rising. During the 2005-2006 election campaign, when only nine of the current members served on the committees, the contractors gave those members a total of $344,954, it said. During the 2011-2012 campaign, they gave a total of $1,046,382 to 36 of the 40 current members of the committees, including to the nine members who joined the committee this year. The other four received industry contributions before 2011.
In 2007, 70 percent of the overall intelligence budget went to contractors, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, but the number of contractors providing core services to the intelligence community has declined by about a third since then. A Senate intelligence committee report in March said that after some recent cutbacks, the intelligence contracting workforce “continues to grow.”
The issue of whether the contractor donations have any impact on the committees’ oversight functions is pertinent because so much of the committees’ authority is exercised behind closed doors. The Senate Intelligence Committee lists 56 hearings this year on its website, but only three were open to the public. Similarly, the House Intelligence Committee has had fewer than 10 open hearings this year.
The committees are “supposed to be exercising check and balances,” but they haven’t, said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. He noted that in the aftermath of Snowden’s disclosures, for example, the intelligence committees have been “generally supportive” of the intelligence community, while the House and Senate Judiciary committees “have been quite critical on a bipartisan basis.”
“It says something about the character of the intelligence committees,” Aftergood said.
Spokesmen for the two intelligence committees, asked by phone and e-mail whether the campaign donations to their members influenced their work, declined to comment. Mikulski, Langevin, and LoBiondo also did not respond to requests for comment.