Despite an audacious vow last spring to cut 500,000 federal contractors if elected the next president of the United States, Sen. Hillary Clinton has emerged as the top choice for the White House in 2008 by the leading companies that do business with the government.
According to an analysis by Government Executive, the former first lady has outpaced all candidates -- both Democrats and Republicans -- racking up more than $243,000 in direct campaign contributions from employees of the 50 biggest federal contractors. Clinton, D-N.Y., also added another $9,600 in contributions from the political action committees controlled by the contracting firms.
The frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Clinton is trailed closely in the money race by her nearest political rival, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., whose campaign coffers have been boosted by more than $232,000 in direct contributions from the largest contractors.
These 50 firms, including the likes of Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., earned just under $200 billion in federal contracts in fiscal 2006 -- nearly half of all contracts issued by government agencies.
In total, more than $1.2 million in individual and PAC contributions have been directed by these top contractors toward 17 presidential candidates. The lion's share has come from high-level company executives, although systems analysts and relief workers also are included.
A closer look at the funding indicates that the environment appears unusually favorable for Democrats, bucking the conventional wisdom that federal contractors are more likely to line up behind Republicans, who generally support moving work from government to the private sector.
But in this year's primary season, more than $748,000, or roughly 62 percent of total contributions, have gone to Democrats. Meanwhile, Republican candidates, including several who have been vocal in their support for contractors, raised nearly $455,000 from the industry.
Campaign finance experts were not surprised by the results, as they epitomize a larger trend in which presidential fund raising has thus far been dominated by the Democrats.
"Senators Clinton and Obama have been vacuuming up so much money that this is not necessarily out of line with other analyses we've seen where forces that generally go Republican are now going Democrat," said Sheila Krumholtz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group in Washington that tracks money in politics.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who as ranking member of the Armed Services Committee has lent his support to numerous defense industry projects, was the top earner on the Republican ticket, raising nearly $189,000 in direct contributions from contractors and an additional $7,000 from their PACs. While by and large supported by the contracting community, McCain has upset some for his rhetoric against sole-source contracting and his push toward more fixed-priced agreements.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has vowed to "conduct a top to bottom review of all government programs, agencies and procurement to eliminate waste and inefficiency," came in second on the Republican side with nearly $84,000 in direct contributions.
The most corporate largesse was doled out by United Technologies Corp., the Hartford, Conn., aerospace and aviation contractor, which contributed more than $119,000 to the candidates.
Most of those contributions, however, went to an unlikely long shot: Sen. Chris Dodd. The Connecticut Democrat, who has languished near the bottom in most national polls, brought in nearly $110,000 from UTC. Those funds accounted for the bulk of Dodd's total contributions of $166,500 from major contractors, good enough for third place among Democrats.
While all 50 companies on the list have major government contracting divisions, some, including ExxonMobil, FedEx, General Electric, IBM and the University of California System, derive a high percentage of their revenue from nongovernmental interests. Government Executive did not attempt to distinguish contributions between employees who work for these firms' government and nongovernment divisions.
The most surprising finding is the ascendancy of Clinton as the new favorite among many federal contractors. During a New Hampshire campaign speech in April, she proposed cutting 500,000 government contractors, arguing the reductions would save $10 billion to $18 billion per year.
"These contractors, it turns out, are often more expensive than doing the work in the government. In fact, some contract employees cost twice as much as comparable federal workers," Clinton said at the time. "They're often less accountable and less competent."
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request by Government Executive for comment.
The senator's speech angered many in the procurement community, but most ultimately dismissed Clinton's proposal as campaign rhetoric that lacked much analytical foundation, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a trade group in Arlington, Va., that represents federal contractors.
Soloway said most contractors recognize that Clinton's proposal would be nearly impossible to accomplish and has little chance of coming to fruition. Meanwhile, those contractors that are contributing to her campaign may be supporting her because of a multitude of other issues, from personal connections built during her husband's administration to nonrelated policy proposals.
"I don't focus too much on statements that are said in the heat of a presidential campaign," said Soloway, who served as a deputy undersecretary of Defense during President Bill Clinton's administration. "I am troubled by [Sen. Clinton's] statements, but I recognize that they are designed to curry favor with one or more constituencies."
That same level of skepticism appears to apply to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who pledged last spring not to replace half of the estimated 42 percent of federal workers who are scheduled to retire in the next decade -- a plan that if implemented would likely lead to an influx of more contracting opportunities. Despite the promise, Giuliani raised only $57,000 from top contractors, behind McCain, Romney and Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul.
But there may be other, less obvious reasons that Clinton, Obama and McCain lead the pack in contractor contributions.
Less than one half of 1 percent of all citizens contribute to campaigns, Krumholtz said. If a sitting U.S. senator calls soliciting a contribution, many executives top contractors may be skittish of brushing them off for fear of making an enemy who could potentially derail future contracting opportunities.
"Many [executives] look at campaign contributions as a small price of doing business in light of what can be reaped in a contract down the line," Krumholtz said.
Campaign contributions from the top 50 federal contractors to candidates for president in 2008
|Democrats||Individual contributions||PAC contributions||Total|
|Republican||Individual contributions||PAC contributions||Total|
The figures are for the entire primary season through Tuesday, Dec. 11. Contributions are attributed to parent company. Government Executive did not attempt to search for all subsidiaries. Source: Center for Responsive Politics