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Defense companies spend millions every year lobbying politicians and donating to their campaigns. In the past two decades, their extensive network of lobbyists and donors have directed $285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying spending to influence defense policy. To further these goals they hired more than 200 lobbyists who have worked in the same government that regulates and decides funding for the industry.
Defense companies sell a variety of products and services around the world from missiles, rifles and personnel equipment to tanks, aircraft and complex electrical and computer systems. The industry’s political activity is dominated by the well known behemoths. Just 200 defense companies reported lobbying the federal government in 2020. The top five account for more than 50 percent of the industry’s lobbying and the top 15 spend 75 percent of the lobbying money. The five biggest spenders in 2020 — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics — spent $60 million altogether.
The defense industry’s business prospects are tightly controlled and in many ways entirely decided by official decisions made in Congress and the Pentagon in a way that other industries don’t have to contend with. Despite those restrictions, business is undeniably good both at home and abroad. Foreign sales delivered an average of $12 billion worth of arms per year between 2016 and 2018, according to Security Assistance Monitor data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s on top of a sizable portion of the $740 billion Pentagon budget spent on weapons for use by the U.S. military. When it comes time for Congress to decide funding levels for a Pentagon that spends nearly three times as much as any other military in the world, arms manufacturers and military support sellers have an extensive network of lobbyists and former government employees pushing their business interests to members of Congress who have taken contributions from them and also often have constituents employed by them.
While it is well known that the U.S. spends enormous sums to keep the most powerful military in history humming,