Being split into parties isn’t enough for some members of Congress, so often they establish formal caucuses to support or study specific key issues close to their hearts and districts. There’s the Diabetes Caucus. The Friend of Animals Caucus. The Public Broadcasting Caucus.
And then there’s the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Caucus, which changed its name to the Unmanned Systems Caucus at the end of January. In a way, this is like a high-school, remote-controlled airplane club deciding that, hey, remote-controlled hovercrafts are pretty sweet, too.
Actually, it’s not like that at all.
First of all, we’re not talking toys. These billion-dollar devices are designed to drop bombs, conduct surveillance, deliver supplies—basically any task that would be too dangerous, tedious or costly to use a real, live human being.
Secondly, your average model-plane nerd isn’t collecting tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money from weapons manufacturers.
The motivation for members to join the UAV Caucus (not to be confused with the A/V Club) may be national security or job creation, but the caucus is also where members of Congress directly show their allegiance to an industry that donated generously to their war chests.
How much? In the 2010 election cycle alone, UAV-related political-action committees donate more than $1.7 million to the Caucus’ 42 members.
In February 2009, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), at the time the ranking Republican on House Armed Services, co-founded the UAV Caucus. He began to hold meetings on the future of the military systems and by the end of the year he had launched a website–on House servers–for the caucus, which was ostensibly designed to provide news on UAVs and connect members of Congress with the industry. He called it “unprecedented.”
Here’s the mission statement.
As members of this Caucus, we:
1. Acknowledge the overwhelming value of these systems to the defense, intelligence, homeland security, law enforcement, and the scientific communities;
2. Recognize the urgent need to rapidly develop and deploy more Unmanned Systems in support of ongoing civil, military, and law enforcement operations;
3. Work with the military, industry, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other stakeholders to seek fair and equitable solutions to challenges created by UAV operations in the U.S. National Air Space (NAS);
4. Support our world-class industrial base that engineers, develops, manufactures, and tests unmanned systems creating thousands of American jobs;
5. Support policies and budgets that promote a larger, more robust national security unmanned system capability.
What it doesn’t say, at least not explicitly, is that caucus has served as the Congressional booster for the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The UAVSI “Advocacy” page gives am overview of all the ways its members can maximize that relationship;In addition to whatever legislation and appropriations, caucus support has manifested in the opportunity to give committee testimony, visits from Congressmen, keynote speeches, meetings with legislators on “AUVSI DAY,” roundtables, facility tours, but perhaps most notably, a tech fair sponsored by McKeon’s office at the Rayburn House:
AUVSI is one of these revolving door industry organization; its president, Michael Toscano, served for 13 years as program manager for Pentagon’s Joint Robotics Program. Ben Gielow, AUVSI’s governmental relations manager, was Rep. Vernon Ehler’s general counsel. The organization boasts more than 6,000 members, including approximately 200 corporate members.
Here’s a map of most of those companies:
View AUVSI Members in a full screen map
We filtered the 200 AUVSI corporate members to only the “Diamond” and “Platinum” members, then further narrowed the list to only those with corporate PACs. A stark picture emerged: Altogether, these PACs accounted for $1,788,800 in contributions in the 2010 to the members of the caucus.
This figure doesn’t include members who weren’t reelected, such as AUV Caucus co-founder Rep. Allan Mollahan (D-WV), who was defeated in last year’s Democratic primary. Two of the newest members of the caucus—Rick Berg (R-ND) and Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)—received nothing from these PACs, probably because their incumbent opponents were the defense industry’s favorites.
It’s also worth noting that McKeon, who now chairs House Armed Services, paid his wife, Patricia McKeon, about $5,000 a month from his political committee for campaign services (that works out to about $60,000 a year). In the 2010 cycle, he pulled $103,000 from unmanned-systems PACs.
Here’s a spreadsheet of the donations:
Here is the complete list of corporate members of AUVSI. You can help War is Business by clicking the link beside the names to complete a DIY dossier.