Howard "Buck" McKeon — Armed Services Committee

A Californian with close ties to the defense industry

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Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) answers to the nickname “Buck,” an appropriate moniker for the man about to help oversee one of the biggest chunks of the federal budget. McKeon, 72, will likely become the next chair of the House Armed Services Committee, which keep watch on defense spending and military policy.

McKeon’s southern California district lies nestled between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It is home to a number of military installations, including Fort Irwin, the China Lake Naval Base, and Edwards Air Force Base, where Gen. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947.

Over the years, defense contractors — including Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Northrop Grumman — have located facilities there, become generous donors to the congressman, and occasionally employed his former staffers.

After the post-1990 census reapportionment, McKeon became California’s first, and so far only, representative from the new 25th Congressional District. After Rep. John Boehner ascended into the GOP leadership in 2006, McKeon took over his chairmanship of the House Education and Labor Committee. His added responsibilities prompted him to take a leave of absence from the Armed Service Committee, but he rejoined in 2007 and outmaneuvered some more senior colleagues for the mantle of ranking member in 2009.

This summer, in response to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed military spending cuts, McKeon warned that “his team will have to convince members of this committee that these efforts will not weaken our nation’s defense.” He also worried that the savings might be “harvested by congressional Democrats for new domestic spending and entitlement programs.”

McKeon has long advocated for the B-2 Stealth Bomber, even during periods when the Air Force signaled disinterest. Former Air Force Secretary James G. Roche, a former Northrop Grumman executive, told The Washington Post in 2001 that adding additional B-2s won’t “add one drop of sweat to any enemy.”

Northrop Grumman, one of McKeon’s biggest donors, manufactures the planes in his district. In 2004, Northrop Grumman won a $388 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to continue modernizing the B-2 radar system, firmly securing its position in the U.S. fleet. McKeon also helped found Congress’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Caucus, which is interested in another aircraft Northrop Grumman manufactures in his district.

Top PAC contributors

  • General Atomics, defense contractor and manufacturer of unmanned drones — at least $40,000
  • AT&T Inc., telecommunications giant — at least $38,000
  • National Community Action Foundation, a foundation that works to strengthen community action agencies — at least $35,000
  • Lockheed Martin, another major defense contractor — at least $34,000
  • Northrop Grumman, still another defense contracting heavyweight — at least $32,500
  • International Association of Fire Fighters, the labor union representing 298,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics — at least $32,500
  • PACs gave at least $1,798,349 to McKeon’s campaign account and his 21st Century leadership PAC. McKeon received almost $230,000 more in contributions from PACs than from individuals

Revolving door

  • Hanz Heinrichs, a former legislative assistant, now works for Van Scoyoc Associates and has lobbied on behalf of Alcoa, Boeing, and Ashbury International Group
  • Harry G. Henderson Jr. and Scott T. Wilk, a former legal assistant and press secretary respectively, now work for Anchor Consulting LLC and represent the California Institute of the Arts and the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation (for which McKeon secured a $350,000 earmark this year)

Earmarks

  • From 2008 to 2010, McKeon has secured $78,490,500 for various projects
  • In 2010, he secured $24.2 million in defense earmarks, including $1.2 million for General Atomics and $9.6 million for Northrop Grumman
  • In 2009, $13.4 million of the almost $20 million in McKeon earmarks went to defense-related spending
  • In 2008, McKeon secured about $28.3 million — more than $24.4 million for defense, of which $4 million went to General Atomics

Stimulus letters

  • In January 2009 McKeon decried the economic stimulus package saying “the Pelosi-Obey plan isn’t about economic stimulus at all; it’s about massive government spending for favored constituencies.” Nine months later he wrote a letter to transportation secretary Ray LaHood asking him to approve $365 million in grants for transportation projects in southern California

Ethical issues

  • Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has noted that McKeon’s campaign committees paid his wife, Patricia, $292,793 in salary and reimbursements for her work for fundraising, managing the office, and acting as finance director between 2002 through 2006. When asked about the arrangement in 2005, he told the Daily News of Los Angeles that after learning that fundraising consultants take a cut for themselves, the McKeons decided to keep the operation in the family. “We thought we could do it ourselves,” McKeon said

Campaign promises

  • Upon becoming chair of the House Education Committee in 2006, McKeon told the Daily News of Los Angeles “I’ve found, much like joining a fraternity, there are certain things that come to members of the fraternity,” he said. “Because I’m a chairman, there are certain things that I’ll be able to bring to the district that I couldn’t before”
  • This year, he embraced the House GOP’s Pledge to America, noting that on armed services issues, he believes “The American people want this Congress to immediately provide our troops deployed in harm’s way with the resources, authorities and support they need to successfully complete their missions and return home to their loved ones. Our citizens also want this body to keep terrorists locked up at Guantanamo Bay instead of importing dangerous criminals into our communities.” He also backs “a robust homeland missile defense system,” greater efforts to “hold the Iranian mullahs accountable,” and “a secure Southwest border with Mexico”

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