Debt Panel Leader Murray Counts Defense Industry as a Top Donor

When Washington Democrat Patty Murray fought to keep her Senate seat last November, two allies emerged: the lobbying community and the defense industry.

As the newly appointed co-chairwoman of the 12-member, bipartisan committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in budget savings, Murray’s campaign supporters now are sure to come calling for her help.

“If lobbyists are not trying to get to her, then their clients should probably fire them,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group in Washington. “Every lobbyist is going to go through their Rolodex to try and figure out all the connections to the 12 members of the ‘super committee.’”

About $900,000 in campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees associated with them poured into Murray’s 2010 campaign account, according to disclosure reports categorized by the Center for Responsive Politics. Defense companies’ PACs and employees chipped in almost $200,000 more, while hometown employer Boeing Co. delivered a critically timed endorsement in her re-election bid.

Those ties will be particularly important for the defense industry, which has been targeted for about $500 billion in automatic cuts if the committee fails to fulfill its charge.

“It is normal for members of Congress to raise money from lobbyists,” said Trevor Potter, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Election Commission and president of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based organization that defends campaign finance limits.

Support Base

“If you are part of a member’s financial support base, you hope and expect to have access to that member. It’s not that the member would give something that you would not get otherwise, but you certainly expect to get your phone calls returned,” Potter said.

Murray is the only senator on the panel who counts lobbyists among her top donors, and she is the only member, so far, who serves on the defense appropriations committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hasn’t announced her appointments to the panel.

“Senator Murray’s only concerns in supporting any defense project have been protecting our men and women in uniform, bolstering our national security and creating jobs,” said Matt McAlvanah, Murray’s spokesman.

In the case of three former Murray aides, the senator’s campaign allies merged as one: They are lobbyists who represent such defense and aerospace companies as General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon, BAE Systems, General Atomics, Science Applications International Corp. and Boeing.

Former Staff Chief

Her former chief of staff, Rick Desimone, is a vice president at McBee Strategic Consulting LLC, a firm which represents defense companies and other Washington state interests such as technology companies.

Shay Hancock, who worked as Murray’s defense aide, is a vice president at Denny Miller Associates, another lobby shop with ties to her home state and defense companies. And Jeff Bjornstad, another former chief of staff, joined Washington2 Advocates, which represents Boeing on aerospace issues, and military healthcare provider Triwest Healthcare Alliance.

Murray’s former staff members aren’t all representing defense companies.

Former aide Dale Learn went to work for Gordon Thomas Honeywell, which doesn’t represent defense companies, according to the Senate lobbying disclosure database. Another former member of her staff, Justin LeBlanc, now runs his own lobby shop, LeBlanc Government Relations LLC, and doesn’t have any defense clients.

Ranking Third

Over the span of Murray’s congressional career, donations from individual lobbyists and their firms’ PACs rank third with about $1.06 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In 2010, when Murray faced a strong challenge from Republican Dino Rossi, a former state senator who narrowly lost in the 2004 governor’s race, lobbyists and lobby firm PACs donated $908,917 to her campaign and were counted as her top donor source. The donations include Murray’s campaign committee and her leadership committee, M-PAC.

For the 2010 race, defense and aerospace PACs donated $82,000 to Murray. Individuals working for defense companies donated about $105,000 to her campaign. Throughout her congressional career, defense company PACs and individuals donated $385,000, according to the center.

Of the $187,000 in defense contributions Murray received for her Senate re-election race, $136,000 came from Boeing, which employs 77,889 in Washington state.

Boeing Endorsement

As evidence mounted that the national environment was souring for Democratic incumbents in summer of 2010, Murray released a Boeing endorsement that her campaign hoped would slow any Rossi momentum.

“Senator Murray has been a true advocate and champion for the Boeing Co. and for our 75,000 Washington-based employees throughout her three terms, and therefore we support her in her re-election bid,” said company spokesman Doug Kennett.

Murray was an outspoken advocate for Boeing in its bid to win a $35 billion contract for the Air Force’s new refueling tanker aircraft. Boeing on Feb. 25 beat out European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. for the Pentagon contract. Boeing manufactures the 767-model aircraft, which serves as a basis for the military planes, in Everett, Washington.

Murray also heads the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and is on the Budget Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.

“Certainly her role will be to defend discretionary spending not just defense,” said Ellis. Defense companies “will have to pick their poison” in terms of cuts if they want to ensure the special committee’s recommendations are passed by Congress.

Otherwise, he said, a compromise deal on cutting the deficit would trigger automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion, half of which would come from national security spending.

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