Former Attorney General John Ashcroft goes where one former A.G. probably should not. John Ashcroft is… "The Insider." Now lobbying in government offices probably nowhere near you.
With a history dating back to the late 19th century, General Dynamics is among the top five defense contractors based in the United States and involved in land, sea and air weapon systems. (Recently acquired Anteon International Corporation.) Officially established under its current name in February 1952, GD is based in Falls Church, Virginia and is the manufacturer of the M1 Abrams tank and the Los Angeles class SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines).
In a November 2004 article in the Providence Journal, it was noted that General Dynamics is "the largest maker of armored vehicles for the U.S. military." According to Oakland, Calif. based watchdog, CorpWatch, General Dynamics received almost $10 billion in government contracts and made $1.42 million in political contributions (57% to Republicans) in the 2004 election cycle. (The blogosphere’s favorite senator, Joe Lieberman, received $10,000 from GD in 2005. Just one of the many defense industry donors to the junior senator from Connecticut.) And just for good measure, the current Deputy Secretary of Defense and former Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England, served as General Dynamics vice president from 1997 until 2001. CorpWatch summarized the relationship between GD executives and the military:
The Boston Globe noted at the time of his nomination that "Gordon England had no military experience, but he had just the right qualification to become President Bush’s pick for secretary of the Navy: Two decades in the corporate world." Former Pentagon and military officials populate General Dynamic’s Board of Directors, including Jay L. Johnson, Chief of Naval Operations in the U.S. Navy, Paul G. Kaminski, Under Secretary of U.S. Department of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, and George A. Joulwan, former U.S. Army Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell had an interest in the company as well. He received $1 million of stock in General Dynamics, as well as more than $20 million in other corporate investments, when he joined the board of America Online.
General Dynamics’ ties to the federal government were further strengthened as former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s lobbying firm, The Ashcroft Group, was recently hired by GD (via David R. Mark of JABBS):
Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s lobbying firm has been hired by General Dynamics to represent it on "trade and defense issues," O’Dwyer’s PR Daily reports in its June 15 edition.
General Dynamics has hardly been hurting for business from the Bush Administration. The Washington Times reported June 13 that "the steady stream of orders from the U.S. Army — which now total about 25 percent of the company’s sales — provides a solid base that will continue for years." The defense contractor’s net sales have more than doubled since 2000 to $21.24 billion last year.
Ashcroft, who set up his lobbying firm last September, is at the center of that criticism, with some saying that for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer to move to K Street was as undignified as it was unusual. Ashcroft is the first former attorney general to become a registered lobbyist. Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, told the New York Times that because Ashcroft had worked only in government, "he cannot claim to have any business expertise."
"What is he selling, other than connections and knowledge of how to game the system from being attorney general?" Brian asked. Consider this: After helping prosecute executives at Enron and WorldCom, Ashcroft now says he can counsel similar troubled companies to avoid similar fates — to be "someone who can take threatening circumstances and neutralize them." (emphasis from JABBS)
Ah yes, the ol’ revolving door and the shameless transparent use of government contacts: (Connected) people helping (rich) people (get richer).
Question: When Ashcroft’s group seals the deal on a contract for General Dynamics, do you think they will break out the Crisco to mark the occasion, followed by a rousing rendition of "Let the Eagle Soar"? It’s probably company policy for one of the best "hired guns" on K-Street.
Related Earlier this week, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) penned an amendment to the Defense appropriation bill in an attempt to reign in defense contractors that have run amok in Iraq. It was co-sponsored by 17 Democrats but Republicans voted against it, leading to its defeat. There should be no doubt that the Republicans are complicit in the fleecing of the American taxpayers to feed the greedy appetite of defense contractors. Bob Geiger wrote June 20 for Democrats.com:
"I think when you are at war, when a massive quantity of money is being pushed out the door, that we ought to decide to get tough on those who would be engaged in war profiteering," said Dorgan in fighting for his amendment last week. "I dare say that never in the history of this country has so much money been wasted so quickly. And, yes, there is fraud involved, there is abuse involved, and it is the case that there is a dramatic amount of taxpayers’ money that is now being wasted."
And Senate Republicans still saw fit to reject penalizing companies engaging in overt war profiteering and fraud despite Dorgan’s spending a considerable amount of time on the Senate floor trotting out example after example of the hideous abuse that has been occurring in Iraq.
"What we have discovered is pretty unbelievable," said Dorgan last week. "We have direct testimony from physicians, Army doctors, and others about providing nonpotable water for shaving, brushing teeth that is in worse condition as water than the raw water coming out of the Euphrates River."
"Let me describe some of the firsthand eyewitness issues in Iraq," Dorgan continued. "Brand new $85,000 trucks that were left on the side of the road because of a flat tire and then subsequently burned. 25 tons, 50,000 pounds, of nails ordered by Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), the wrong size, that are laying in the sands of Iraq. 42,000 meals a day charged to the taxpayers by Halliburton and only 14,000 are actually served."
Senator Dorgan co-sponsored another measure that would create an oversight committe charged with investigating defense contractor fraud. It was shot down also. Said Senate Minority Whip, Dick Durbin (D-Illinois):
"I don’t understand why there isn’t a sense of outrage in this Congress on a bipartisan basis, on both sides of the aisle, that we are not only being ripped off as taxpayers by these no-bid contracts but that we are shortchanging these men and women who are risking their lives while we stand in the comfort and safety of this Senate," said the Illinois Democrat. "I know Halliburton is a big political force in this town. I know in some quarters you are not supposed to question Halliburton. This is some sacred institution politically. I don’t buy it. I count the soldiers that are putting their lives on the line to be much more sacred and much more valuable than any big, huge, no-bid corporation."
Shorter GOP on war profiteers: "Oversight? We don’t need no stinkin’ oversight."
Finally, this being my first post at FDL since YearlyKos, I wanted to highlight the incredible panel, "View from the Ground," led by Paul Rieckhoff, author of Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier’s Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington and executive director/founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). The non-profit IAVA is "the nation’s first and largest group dedicated to the Troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the civilian supporters of those Troops and Veterans." (Read the IAVA’s section on "private contractors." Also, the IAVA is sponsoring a project on defense contractors called the "Follow the Money Project.")
Republicans claim they "support the troops" and paint Democrats on the other side of America’s men and women in uniform. However, the GOP-controlled Congress and White House slash veterans’ benefits and stab them in the back at will. They must really believe that lapel pins, yellow ribbon magnets, U.S. flags, and marching in lockstep with GOP "policy" is all it takes to "support the troops." Republicans talk tough — and have the t-shirts and bumper stickers to prove it — but seldom do they ever follow through on the rhetoric; be it body armor, veterans’ benefits, defense contractors running amok, or a viable Iraq policy that includes more substance than simply saying "stay the course." That’s not a plan. That’s a death sentence.
Democrats must take a strong stand in support of our returning vets and expose the empty Republican rhetoric for what it truly is: dangerously deluded.
To support true American heroes like Paul Rieckhoff, help the IAVA.
Other posts in this series:
"Merchants of Misery" and the "Do-Less-Than-Nothing" Congress (introduction), 04.29.06
Houston, We Have a Problem (Halliburton), 05.06.06
Friends in High Places (Bechtel), 05.20.06
Transforming Risk into Opportunity (Custer Battles), 06.03.06