Kasich Shrugs Off Impact of Military Lobbyists

Judy Elliott on October 13, 2015
John Kasich says he probably won't increase waiting period for retired military officers to become lobbyists. He also says he's not influenced by lobbyists. What I wonder is, if public officials are immune from lobbying, why did the defense sector spent $128 million on it in 2014? And why do Pentagon contractors go to such lengths to hire retired generals?

Kasich Shrugs Off Impact of Military Lobbyists

On October 9 in Concord, Ohio Gov. John Kasich told me he would “probably not” increase the one-year period that retired Pentagon officials must wait before lobbying on behalf of military contractors.

Kasich, who is running for president, cited two reasons. He claimed that as president, he would be immune from the influence of lobbyists. And he said that members of Congress vote for military spending mainly to protect facilities in their districts, not because of lobbying.

If he’s correct, why did the defense sector spent $128 million lobbying in 2014, as documented by the Open Secrets website? And why is it that 70% of retired generals go to work for the military industrial complex?

Examples aren’t hard to find.

Ret. General Jack Keane works for General Dynamics and Ret. General Anthony Zinni is on BAE’s US board, according to a 2014 Nation article by Lee Fang. As reported in this blog April 11, Admiral Richard Mies went to work for Babcock and Wilcox after retiring. The firm helps manage the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. These are only a few of the many high-ranking officers who have become lobbyists.

It isn’t just former officers who cash in. Members of Congress, their staffers, and civilian employees of the Pentagon also go through the revolving door. For example, former House Arms Services Chair Buck McKeon and his former staffers are lobbying based on their military-industrial ties. The problem is that knowing they can cash in after retirement gives government officials a huge incentive to curry favor with military contractors before retirement.

According to POGO, “The National Association for Corporate Directors has a … [program] … specifically for high-ranking retired and soon-to-be retired military officers.” The name of the program? “From Battlefield to Boardroom.” Gov. Kasich claims the military industry is just wasting its money on lobbying. If only.

Here’s a transcript of my question and Gov. Kasich’s response:

Judy Elliott: On the topic of military spending and reforming the Pentagon, the majority of retired generals go to work for the defense industry and just knowing that they can have these lucrative positions after they retire is a real incentive, I’m afraid, for them to curry favor with the defense industry while they’re still in uniform. So my specific question is, would you favor increasing the period that high-ranking defense officials have to wait before they lobby? That period is one year.

Gov. Kasich: Probably not. I mean, you know, I didn’t know you would know it was a year. Look, just because you’re there and you want to get a job after you’re there doesn’t mean you don’t have character. The way I look at defense systems, and this is how I got to the B-2 issue. Okay, the B-2’s supposed to fly into the middle of the Soviet Union in a nuclear war and drop more nuclear weapons. I’m like, we don’t need to do that. So let’s limit the production of the plane, take the [remainder?] of the money that we save and buy some of these stand-off weapons, which people didn’t know about at the time.

As a President I get to propose a budget, and I’m not interested in proposing things that don’t create the strength that we need just because there’s a bunch of people yelling for a certain system. So the way you write budgets is you get people who do understand what we really need in defense and you go over it and you figure out which are the critical systems that you need. And that’s the way I do it. It wouldn’t matter to me who is influencing who. Do you see what I’m saying?

Now on Capitol Hill, the thing that drives a lot of the parochial defense issues are the districts. You know, it’s the district issue. You know, they build this plane in my district or they have this base in my district or they have this, and it becomes parochial. Now, we have to break that down. I was one of the sponsors of Facebook. You know, I mean you just can’t put money into something you don’t need any more just because, you know, you think it’s a program you need keep in your district.

Now you look at Pease, you know, right here in New Hampshire, they’ve been able to turn lemons into lemonade. And we just, we have to just make hard decisions when it comes to defense. So, believe me just because some General Easy works for Boeing or somebody doesn’t mean that they get what they want. Because they don’t decide what goes in the budget. They’ll lobby, they’ll pressure, they’ll push, but they’re not the ones who make the decision.

And I gotta tell you something. You didn’t, I know you didn’t hear this. But do you know what’s it’s like to stop a major program of 132 bombers at a billion dollars apiece and limit it to 20? Do you have any idea what that took? In some respects, that was even a more significant accomplishment for me that even getting the budget balanced. Because that doesn’t happen. But we got it done because we used an intellectual argument and we pushed hard. And here in New Hampshire, I think I had, I think Sununu and Charlie Bass were both with me at the time on that. I don’t remember where Judd was, I just don’t remember. But, you know, it was a growing number of people that said we have to restrain this.

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