This summer, Dave Calhoun, CEO of Boeing—builder of the intercontinental ballistic missile—declared himself cheerfully indifferent to the presidential election. “I think both candidates, at least in my view, appear globally oriented and interested in the defense of our country and I believe they’ll support the industries,” he said on a media call. So don’t expect any official endorsements from him and his colleagues. “I don’t think we’re going to take a position on one being better than the other,” he concluded. While many industries fret over how potential election outcomes could affect their profits, US military contractors like Boeing—whose Apache helicopter is seen killing civilians in Wikileaks’ infamous “Collateral Murder” video—are directly and indirectly funding both President Trump and former vice president Biden’s campaigns.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan research group that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on politics, one of the top contributors to Biden’s campaign is Paloma Partners, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund and Democratic coffer-stuffer. The fund has given Biden just under $10 million, at least 90 percent of which comes from S. Donald Sussman, Paloma’s founder and chief investment officer. And apart from Joe Biden for President, a branch of the campaign, the vice president’s largest source of funding is the PAC Priorities USA Action, which has chipped in $125 million—Paloma is one of the groups most responsible for the PAC’s war chest.
Securities and Exchange Commission filings also indicate that Paloma has more than 260,000 shares in Raytheon, a preeminent weapons manufacturer. Raytheon is a major supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which has dropped the Massachusetts-based company’s bombs on such places as a funeral hall in Sanaa, Yemen, killing at least 140. Raytheon’s CEO, Gregory Hayes, concurs with Calhoun. “Defense has always been a bipartisan issue,” he recently told CNBC, dismissing the idea that Biden might cut military spending.
President Trump’s reelection campaign’s funders have similar ties. One key contributor is an Arkansas-based private investment company called Stephens Inc, which owns roughly 213,000 shares in Raytheon, 27,000 in Boeing, and 18,000 in Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of a missile system with which NATO once killed 12 Afghan civilians. Stephens also has 50,000 shares in Kratos Defense, whose products include unmanned ground vehicles and the XQ-58 Valkyrie drone—the US Air Force’s top acquisition official envisions the Valkyrie as part of a prototype artificial intelligence program called Skyborg.
In the same vein, Euclidean Capital has lavished Biden with $7 million. Euclidean is the family office of the billionaire Jim Simons—Jim and Marilyn Simons account for 90 percent or more of the organization’s political largesse. Jim Simons founded the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies and, while he retired from the firm in 2010, he continues to have a role at a Renaissance and to benefit from its funds. According to CRP, Renaissance’s “individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate family members” have given to the Biden campaign to the extent of putting Renaissance in the top 10 of Biden contributors; both Euclidean and Renaissance are in the upper tier of Priorities USA financers.
Renaissance holds 1.2 million shares in Raytheon worth almost $75 million, and has over 130,000 shares in Lockheed Martin valued at nearly $50 million. Among Lockheed’s most lucrative clients are Israel and Saudi Arabia, two vital US proxies and central contributors to Middle Eastern bloodshed. Israel used Lockheed’s F-35 Lightning II aircraft to bomb Gaza as well as Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria. In 2018, a US-Saudi coalition air strike hit a Yemeni school with a 500-pound laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed and killed dozens of children.
Others making a killing off killing include the $500 billion private equity firm Blackstone Group, a leading Trump backer. The company has 100,000 shares in Kratos. Blackstone’s chief executive, Stephen Schwarzman, has spent $27 million bankrolling Republican candidates this election cycle, including the president, and is an unofficial Trump adviser. In August, Blackstone hired lobbyist David Urban, a member of Trump’s reelection advisory committee and a crucial architect of the president’s successful 2016 campaign, in an effort to try to work with the Department of Defense and State Department on “issues related to military preparedness and training.”
The pipeline goes both ways—Trump’s administration already bears evidence of weapons industry ties, featuring both Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a former Raytheon lobbyist, and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, once a vice president at Lockheed. Further back, William Lynn was Raytheon’s top lobbyist before the Obama administration made him deputy secretary of defense. Tom Kelly, deputy assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said of arms exports under the Obama-Biden administration in which he served: “[We are] advocating on behalf of our companies and doing everything we can to make sure that these sales go through.” In 2017, Kelly became Raytheon’s vice president for policy and advocacy.
It’s difficult to imagine that the wealthiest investors in the world disburse millions of dollars to political campaigns without the occasional peep at their portfolios. The institutional logic at work here is such that, no matter the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, the occupant of the White House for the next four years will be there thanks in considerable part to people with a stake in Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed’s earnings.
War industry firms themselves directly donate to candidates in a fairly bipartisan fashion. Aerospace companies in the war business focus their political donations on members of the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees, which dole out federal money, and on members of the Armed Services committees, who help shape military policy and thus can create demand for what this industry sells. Of the money this sector has donated to 2020 presidential candidates, slightly more has gone to Trump. Yet the opposite is true of “defense” electronics, the field concerned with components and systems designed to ensure technological supremacy in war. Companies working in this arena have given more to Biden than to Trump, even though this sector has tended in the past to direct its money to the party in power. CRP numbers that take into account PACs and individuals who gifted $200 or more to candidates show that the weapons industry as a whole has given $1.6 million to Trump and $2.4 million to Biden.
While Trump has made a show of disavowing any involvement in quid pro quos with American corporations like Exxon, it’s safe to say that major industry sees government as a source of opportunity. Arms dealers and their patrons are no exception; they exist to make money. They don’t pour cash into the political system out of pure ideological commitment—they expect a return on investment. Whoever is inaugurated in January, companies whose profits depend on the US military can be expected to have his ear.