Defense companies halt political donations over Capitol Hill violence
By AARON GREGG | The Washington Post | Published: January 12, 2021
Defense-industrial giant Northrop Grumman says it has halted all campaign donations from its political action committee, the first defense manufacturer to join a growing corporate backlash against violent riots many believe were sparked by President Donald Trump as part of his campaign to overturn the November election. Several other large government contractors followed suit.
In the days since Trump supporters temporarily halted the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's election win in violence that left a police officer and four others dead, many well-known brands have rebuked the president and members of Congress seen as enabling him.
AT&T, Marriott, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and American Express were among many that said they would withhold donations from their political action committees to congressional Republicans who voted against certifying Biden's win. Others — including Google, Microsoft and BlackRock — said they were halting all political donations from their PACs.
"We are pausing political action committee giving and evaluating the way forward," said Northrop Grumman Vice President of Communications Tim Paynter. Northrop Grumman did not release a statement explaining its decision.
Northrop Grumman's move to halt donations is significant in an industry generally reluctant to criticize the commander in chief.
Trade associations representing the defense industry issued statements publicly condemning the violence, but they did not directly criticize Trump or specify congressional Republicans. Aerospace Industry Association President Eric Fanning condemned the riots along with "those who incite such violence" without naming Trump directly. National Defense Industrial Association President Hawk Carlisle called the riot "despicable" for causing a "breakdown of the rule of law" and "the desecration of the Capitol building."
Some of Northrop's peers at the top of the U.S. defense industry — Lockheed Martin, Boeing General Dynamics — had not halted donations or issued statements as of Tuesday afternoon.
But three other large government contractors later confirmed Tuesday that they would halt donations.
Raytheon Technologies, a massive Massachusetts-based defense-tech company that formed through a merger of Raytheon and United Technologies, halted all contributions to "reflect on the current environment and determine appropriate next steps," said Raytheon spokesman Chris Johnson.
Leidos, a Reston, Va.-based company that specializes in government IT and other technology services, paused all political donations because "democracy thrives on passionate debate and different opinions but dies in anarchy and violence," as chief executive Roger Krone put it in a statement published Tuesday.
BAE Systems, the U.S. subsidiary of a British defense manufacturer, reacted to what spokeswoman Tammy Thorp referred to as "disturbing" events at the capitol.
"In response to the deeply disturbing violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, our US political action committee has suspended all donations while we assess the path forward," Thorp said.
The defense industry, through sophisticated lobbying operations and a manufacturing supply chain spanning all 50 states, has long held significant sway in Congress. It is also a prolific contributor to political campaigns, including those of the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the November election.
An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics found four defense firms among the top 20 contributors to the campaigns of Republicans who objected to Biden's win. Northrop Grumman was 10th among them, with $687,500 donated to lawmakers who objected to the election. Lockheed Martin, which has not halted donations, contributed $651,000 to those lawmakers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Political giving from Northrop Grumman's employee-funded PAC reached $4.8 million last year according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics; its highest point in at least 30 years. Contributions from the PAC in 2020 were about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, slightly favoring Democrats. Between 2014 and 2020 Republicans received more from the company.
Northrop Grumman's PAC has previously contributed to several of the lawmakers who voted to overturn the election results. From 2015 to 2020 the PAC gave $5,000 to the campaign of Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the most recent election cycle it gave $15,000 to the campaign of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and $10,000 to Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., among others who voted to overturn the election.
The defense industry has in many ways walked in lockstep with Trump since he took office. The industry has benefited significantly from increased military spending under Trump, as well as the president's support for international arms sales. Lockheed Martin became a centerpiece of a White House-sponsored advertising campaign highlighting the administration's job-creation credentials.
When Trump blamed "both sides" for violence at a Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist rally in 2017, defense firms were among the few companies that supported the president's business councils. Other corporations left the councils in protest, leading to their dissolution.
Northrop Grumman was not a part of the president's business councils even before the Charlottesville rally. But the company suffered its own fallout from the rally when ProPublica and the television program "Frontline" identified one of its systems engineers as a member of a white supremacist organization. Northrop Grumman fired the engineer after a video surfaced showing him punching a Black man at the Charlottesville rally.