Is there a link between Defense PAC $$ and Support for Perpetual War?

On the afternoon of May 26 2011, 234 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted down an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. This amendment, sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, would have removed Section 1034 of the NDAA, a new provision to issue a blanket authorization for the President to engage in military attacks nearly anywhere and anytime he judges fitting, without any further requirement for congressional authorization. As a bipartisan letter cosigned by seven of Amash’s colleagues explains, this provision is unconstitutional, upsets the balance of American political power and creates a real danger of increased conflict and perpetual war:

Section 1034 of this 920-page bill contains perhaps the broadest authorization for use of military force (AUMF) Congress has ever considered. This monumental legislation will affirmatively and preemptively give the president unprecedented power to launch attacks anywhere in the world, even within the United States. The bipartisan Amash-Lee-Conyers-Jones-Nadler-Paul amendment (No. 50) strikes this provision, and we ask that you stand with us and support this amendment on the floor.

Section 1034 authorizes American military force against a broad and unknown class of persons. Unlike the AUMF Congress passed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the new authorization targets “al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces”—an undefined and potentially limitless group. “Associated forces” don’t need to be connected to 9/11. “Associated forces” don’t need to have fought against the United States. “Associated forces” even may include American citizens.

Yet Section 1034 does not stop with “associated forces.” The new authorization green lights American military force against any person who “ha[s] supported hostilities in aid of” an organization that “substantially support[s]” associated forces. An American citizen who donates to a charity that, unbeknownst to him, financially supports an associated force potentially could be targeted by our country’s own military under the new authorization.

Much like Section 1034’s targets, the duration and location of American military force are indefinite. There is no geographical limit to the authorization—force may be used worldwide, at the president’s discretion. The authorization lasts “during the current armed conflict.” The September 11 AUMF was meant to last as long as it took to eliminate or detain those who planned the terrorist attacks. Now that the new authorization gets rid of the 9/11 nexus and expands the current conflict to associated forces, there is no apparent time limit on the use of force.

This warning did not sway enough members of Congress to change their position and stop the perpetual war provision; it remained in the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House last week in unaltered form.

Who stands to benefit from perpetual war? The most direct benefit accrues to military corporations that build new weapons and ammunition to replace those that have been used up, worn out or destroyed in America’s wars. The top 5 contractors with the U.S. government in Fiscal Year 2010 were military contractors: Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin. These 5 military corporations have also been heavy contributors to politicians’ re-election campaigns. Is the patronage of these military contractors correlated with last week’s vote to authorize perpetual war?

To answer this question, That’s My Congress has plumbed the reports of the Federal Election Commission to find how many out of these Top 5 military contractors has sent political action committee (PAC) money to each member of Congress. 68% of members of Congress have received PAC contributions from at least one of these five corporations; 11 members of Congress have received PAC money from all 5 corporations. The graph below shows the % voting to remove perpetual war language from the National Defense Authorization Act this year, according to how many of the corporations ponied up cash for members:

Percent Voting to Remove Perpetual War Language from the National Defense Authorization Act, according to receipt of Defense Contractor PAC $$$ in 2011.  Source: Roll Call 361, May 26 2011

Judging by this graph, the answer is as complicated as real life. While 55.7% of members who didn’t take any Top 5 military PAC money voted to remove the perpetual war language, only 18.2% of the members who took cash from all 5 top military contractors voted to stop perpetual war. That’s a significant if not wholly determinative difference. Members of Congress taking money from some but not all of these contractors stood in between, voting at intermediate levels to preserve presidential perpetual war powers. But it should be noted that in each group there were some members who voted to stop the blank-check provision for war, and that a significant minority of those who received no PAC money from the Big 5 military contractors still cast votes in defense of the perpetual war language. This level of association suggests a certain level of influence rather than a strict quid pro quo.

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