Clinton hasn't laid out a clear position on defense spending, and her campaign did not respond to several requests for comment. On her campaign website she has argued for "permanently ending the damaging sequester" — meaning she supports rolling back budget caps that tried to curtail the federal deficit by limiting how much government agencies, including the Department of Defense, can spend.
Clinton, during a speech on the Iran nuclear agreement at the Brookings Institution, said she supports selling Israel the trillion-dollar F-35 aircraft. She has said little about nuclear modernization plans, though she said the possible $1 trillion price tag "doesn't make sense" during an Iowa campaign event last January. Asked, after the event, if she would oppose spending that amount on new nuclear weapons, she said she was "going to look into that."
Sanders has taken a different approach. While he has supported the F-35 program, which is slated to station some planes in his home state, he is a co-sponsor of the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act, which calls for cutting $100 billion from planned U.S. spending on nuclear weapons.
"We need a strong military, it is a dangerous world. But I think we can make judicious cuts," Sanders told a U.S. Student Association town meeting at the University of Iowa in February 2015. He added: "There is massive fraud going on in the defense industry. Virtually every major defense contractor has either been convicted of fraud or reached a settlement with the government." He also told the fourth Democratic debate, on Jan. 17, that the Defense Department’s priorities need “fundamental change.”
Nevertheless, Sanders collected at least $310,055 from defense contractor employees, including at least $45,652 from employees of Boeing and at least $36,624 from employees of Lockheed Martin — more than Clinton received from either group. Two-thirds of Sanders’ total and 95 percent of his individual contributions from employees of defense contractors came in amounts of $250 or less, while Clinton was more reliant on contributions of at least $1,000, including many from company managers. Neither Sanders’ campaign nor Boeing responded to requests for comment.
Cruz stands out among Republicans
During the CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall in Greenville, South Carolina, on Feb. 18, Cruz said that Obama has "weakened and degraded the military," and that he wants to raise defense spending to 4 percent of the country's gross domestic product — which would amount to a roughly $135 billion increase beyond what Obama has proposed. Cruz's plan calls for increasing the number of active-duty troops, adding more fighter aircraft and building more ships for the Navy.
Cruz’s top defense-related donor was Lockheed Martin, whose employees gave him at least $44,958, more than they've given to any other presidential candidate. Lockheed Martin is a contractor for the Aegis Combat System, which is equipped with ballistic missile defense capabilities, and it was the Missile Defense Agency's top contractor in fiscal 2014, receiving about $1.8 billion, almost a third of the agency's awarded spending that year, according to the most recent information available from the federal General Services Administration.
The Cruz campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Coming in second among the remaining Republicans was Kasich, the Ohio governor, who has received at least $39,194 from donors associated with the top contractors. At the outset of his campaign, he highlighted his efforts as a congressman 20 years earlier to cut Pentagon spending, saying "we made things right. We saved money. We improved the system."
In October, as part of his "Action Plan" for balancing the federal budget, he called for freezing funds that can be spent for non-defense programs, while adding $102 billion to the Pentagon's spending.
Of the remaining Republican candidates, Trump has received the least in identified contributions from contractor employees: just $10,586. His position on defense spending isn’t clear, and he hasn’t given clear answers when asked about specific weapons issues. But he has called for countries where U.S. troops are deployed, such as South Korea and Japan, to pay more of the costs. "When you look at the kind of money that our country is losing, we can’t afford to do this," Trump said in an interview with the Washington Post on March 21, referring to the cost of protecting Saudi Arabia in particular.
The amounts given by G.E., Lockheed and Boeing employees to presidential candidates between early 2015 and February 2016 are smaller than what they gave over a comparable period before the 2008 presidential election, the previous one without an incumbent, perhaps because the outcome of the primaries has been too hard to predict.
"It's so confusing this year, they [the contractors] don't know who to give to, especially on the Republican side," said Barry Blechman, a fellow at the nonpartisan Stimson Center. This leaves open the possibility that defense-related campaign giving could ramp up quickly once the party’s choices become clearer.