Thursday, September 10, 2009

El Paso: Where Homeland Security Meets National Security

(This is an excerpt from the second of a three-part series titled “Reyes the Rainmaker,” focusing on the power and influence of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in national security, homeland security, border security, and intelligence operations, how those programs have been integrated into regional economic development efforts, and how Reyes has drawn increasing support from the military contracting sector.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) has enjoyed an increasing stream of campaign contributions from government defense, security, and intelligence contractors. Contributions from these firms are now among his largest sources of campaign funds.
Reyes and his staff have repeatedly denied that there is any connection between contributions and his congressional actions. But the appearances of “pay-to-play” activity continue to follow the congressman.
One of the first cases surfaced in 2004 as part of a federal GSA investigation of shoddy work by International Microwave Corporation on an electronic surveillance program on the border. The president of the company had made several large contributions to the Reyes campaign committee, and Rebecca Reyes, the congressman’s daughter, was director of the project. Reyes has said that he had nothing to do with her employment.
In the summer of 2006, just after Reyes became chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, media reports associated contributions by The PMA Group, the defense lobbying giant, to favored treatment by Reyes of PMA clients in the form of earmarks and contracts. Over the past four years, the defense companies that have received earmarks have also been the source of generous campaign contributions.
The opening this summer of a congressional review of the lobbying and campaign operations of The PMA Group by the House ethics panel and a parallel Justice Department investigation have sparked new media reports about the now-defunct PMA.
Military-Industrial Complex Comes to Congress
It may be that there are no direct links between the contributions that Rep. Reyes received for his campaign or for his PAC and the defense and intelligence appropriations that benefited these donors. The current House review and Justice Department investigation may shed light on the campaign and PAC contributions from the defense and security industry and the shaping of the defense appropriations bills.
Although neither the House ethics panel nor DOJ has released any details about their investigations, it’s likely that the targets of the investigation are the senior members of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, where the Pentagon’s defense budget is reshaped and approved, rather then the members of the Armed Services Committee, where Reyes sits.
The investigations apparently do not target the House Intelligence Committee, which came under intense scrutiny several years ago, when one of its members, former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Ca.), came under judicial scrutiny for accepting bribes in exchange for favors as part of his work on the intelligence committee. Cunningham, who used his House position to channel millions of dollars to defense and intelligence contractors, began an eight-year sentence in 2006 for accepting bribes bribes and evading taxes.
When Reyes became chairman of the committee, he drew criticism when he opposed releasing an internal review, saying in a statement at the time that "my view was that the report was an internal review, principally of staff activity, and that the full report — with all of the names of staff — was not intended for dissemination beyond the committee.” [2007 article from The Hill]
At stake is not just the rule of law, but the quality of governance. The dominance of campaign and PAC contributions from defense, security, and intelligence contractors that depend on government appropriations for virtually of their revenues raises issues about undue influence. It’s a concern that President Dwight Eisenhower raised in his farewell address:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of nwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. 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. We should take nothing for granted.”
In the past five decades the influence of this sector has expanded as the defense budget has grown, and it’s a sector that now comprises not only defense contractors but private contractors for the Department of Homeland Security and all intelligence community agencies, where outsourcing is even more prevalent than at the Pentagon.
Photo: Thaad missile defense system supported by Rep. Reyes

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