The Pentagon's stealth rainmaker

How revolving doors and large donations allow a defense lobbying firm to dominate

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With scores of revolving door connections, more than $1 million in campaign contributions and clients that receive most of their contracts from the Pentagon without competition, only one defense lobbying firm can claim to give its clients "an inside track to business opportunities with the federal government."

The PMA Group, a lobbying firm that specializes in defense contracting, has reported receiving $21.7 million in lobbying fees since 1998 from large defense companies—the most paid to any defense lobbying firm, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.

A PMA spokesman said he would not comment on the Center's report.

The fees paid to PMA appear to have paid off for these 41 defense contractors and their parent companies, who collectively won $266 billion in contracts from the Pentagon during the last six years. That amounts to almost 30 percent of the dollar value of all contracts awarded by the Department of Defense.

Though these companies spent another $121 million employing in-house lobbyists and occasionally other lobbying firms, PMA clients' total lobbying versus contracts works out to a ratio of almost $1,859 in contracts for every dollar spent on lobbying.

Of the $266 billion that PMA clients and their parents received in defense contracts, $167 billion—nearly two out of three dollars—were received from contracts that were awarded without "full and open" competition. In fact, PMA clients account for 47 percent of all such non-competitive contracts handed out by the Pentagon since 1998.

Lobby firms like PMA have become a staple of political influence. In all, defense contractors have reported spending $537 million on outside lobbying firms like PMA during the last six years, while they have spent $1.4 billion on in-house lobbying.

PMA's has cultivated a closeness to the Pentagon and to Washington power brokers. PMA's lobbyists routinely make large donations to the lawmakers they lobby, and many at the firm have revolving door connections to Congress and defense agencies that authorize and maintain the contracts of their clients.

'Revolving Doors' keep money flowing inward

Take Paul Magliocchetti, the president and owner of PMA Group. Magliocchetti worked 10 years as senior staff member of the Committee on Appropriations of the U.S. House of Representatives where decisions are made about how much to spend on defense contractors. He also spent nine years working for the Defense Subcommittee during his tenure in the House where he worked on oversight of the $30 billion annual Navy procurement budget. He has also showered $56,000 in campaign contributions since 1998 on members of Congress and leadership committees.

Magliocchetti is hardly an exception at PMA, where almost every one of the lobbying firm's listed employees has passed through this proverbial revolving door, meaning that they have either worked for the Pentagon or Congress and in some cases both.

In fact, the Center found that 30 of the 31 upper-level employees that PMA lists on its Web site have prior employment with some branch of the armed forces or with the House and Senate.

PMA's lobbyists have connections to decision makers at almost every stage of the procurement process.

Recommendations for defense contracting and financial needs come from the Pentagon and branches of the Armed Services, where 16 PMA employees used to work. These recommendations and governmental actions are negotiated through the Defense Department's legislative liaisons offices, where at least 11 PMA lobbyists used to work. The House and the Senate, where 14 PMA employees used to work, vote on bills authorizing the amounts and designations for defense contracting. Many of the core decisions about what is included in each of these bills are made by the Appropriations committees, where six PMA employees used to work.

A key to PMA's success has been deploying lobbyists who remain largely focused on just a few large appropriations bills that are approved every session. In fact, the four bills that drew most of the group's attention during 2003 were appropriations measures totaling more than $65 billion.

Campaign Contributions Sweeten the Pot

Another way that lobbyists stay familiar in the minds of the lawmakers they lobby is by giving hundreds of thousands to congressional election campaigns.

PMA is one of the few lobbying firms that maintains a sizable Political Action Committee. The PMA PAC has given more than $975,000 to 340 House and Senate lawmakers.

In addition to these donations, the PMA employees that have registered to lobby have made more than $271,000 in donations to congressional campaigns, leadership and party committees, the Center found. More than 80 members of Congress were the recipients of these donations and many of the largest donations went to members of the House and the Senate who serve on key committees such as Appropriations.

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