Mr. Smith stays in Washington – with help from military-industrial complex | KUOW News and Information

Mr. Smith stays in Washington – with help from military-industrial complex

Oct 11, 2016

Democrat Adam Smith of Bellevue is running to keep his seat in Congress, but most of his campaign cash comes not from Washington state but from Washington, D.C., and its suburbs.

Political observers consider the state's 9th District, which stretches from Redmond to Tacoma, a safe seat for Democrats. They see little chance of a challenger unseating Smith, who has represented the district for 20 years.

Part of Smith's safety comes from his big fundraising advantage: According to the latest campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission, Smith has raised more than $600,000, 24 times more than his Republican challenger, Doug Basler of Kent.

Executives at Northrop Grumman, one of the world's biggest defense contractors, have given Smith more than anyone else has. The company, which made $23.5 billion in revenue last year, is headquartered in northern Virginia, about 10 miles from the Pentagon.

It has no facilities in the Pacific Northwest.

Contributions to 2016 Adam Smith campaign, by state


SOURCE: Federal Election Commission as of Sept. 26. Graphic: KUOW/Abraham Epton

If a Virginia company's support for a politician from Bellevue sounds odd, recall that Adam Smith is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

"A lot of defense-oriented companies support me," Smith told KUOW.

Smith said both Northrop Grumman and Boeing have held fundraisers for him.

About a third of Smith's campaign cash this year has come from the defense industry. Smith said the money doesn't affect how he votes in Congress.

"My vote has to do with what I think is in the best interest of country and what I think is in the best interest of my district," he said.

"You've got to raise money to run a campaign, and over the years, I've had a lot of donors who stopped being donors when they didn't like the way I voted, and that's OK."

Smith's campaign ads also say he puts the home team first, "securing middle-class jobs for western Washington, where he raises his own family." Smith said he has a strong record of helping his constituents and has been a leader on economic inequality, being an early supporter of the $15 minimum wage in his hometown of SeaTac.

That's not the story you'll hear from Smith's Republican challenger, Doug Basler, who runs an advertising firm in Kent.

"Thousands of people in Washington state are going to lose their jobs because Adam Smith didn't do his," a Basler ad says. 

The ad blames Smith for letting the B-21 bomber – one of the biggest defense contracts ever – go to Northrop Grumman, instead of a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Boeing and Lockheed appealed the Pentagon's awarding of the $80 billion contract to Northrop Grumman last fall.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office rejected the appeal in February, and Boeing and Lockheed officials said they would not appeal GAO's decision.

"It's time to fire Adam Smith and elect someone willing to fight for the families and jobs of Washington state, not Washington, D.C.," Basler's ad states.

Defense contracts are awarded by the executive branch, not by Congress.

In an email, a spokeswoman for the Smith campaign said someone running for Congress should know that.

But Basler said Smith could have done more.

"If he has no authority to help bring favor to those contractors, then why are they giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign?" Basler asked.

"He should send it back," Basler said. "You get on the Armed Services Committee, and then you get hundreds of thousands of dollars from defense industry PACs? That to me sounds like a conflict of interest."

Smith said he doesn't put much time or effort into fundraising; this year, he has only raised about half as much as the average member of Congress.

"Some people have tougher districts," he said. "I can't remember the last time I did a fundraising phone call."

Basler, who calls himself a fiscal and social conservative and Trump supporter, said he values a strong military. He said it wouldn't be a conflict to take money from defense or other interests, as long as they were local.

"If he wants to represent Virginia," Basler said of Smith, "move to Virginia!"

Another Republican politician had a different take on the role of defense contractors in politics 55 years ago.

A page from President Dwight Eisenhower's notes for his farewell speech in 1961.

"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," President Dwight Eisenhower said in his now-famous farewell speech.

"The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."

In the democratic processes of 2016, the military-industrial complex has given members of the House Armed Services Committee $5.4 million total, according to researcher Doug Weber with the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.

The only member of Congress to get more from Northrop Grumman than Smith is Mac Thornberry, chair of the House Armed Services Committee. The Republican from Texas has received $41,150 from Northrop Grumman's employees and PAC, $500 more than Smith, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"If I was going to make a suggestion about campaign finance reform, I'd say that the biggest percentage needs to come from who you're representing," Basler said. "All of my campaign donations are from Washington state."

Basler has raised a total of $25,440 – less than Northrop Grumman executives alone have given Smith.