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How the Drone Warfare Industry Took Over Our Congress

Drones play an increasing role in foreign wars, on the border, and in Congress.

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Caucus and Campaigns 

Formed in 2009 by McKeon, the Unmanned Systems Caucus (formerly called the UAV Caucus), aims to “educate members of Congress and the public on the strategic, tactical, and scientific value of unmanned systems; actively support further development and acquisition of more systems, and to more effectively engage the civilian aviation community on unmanned system use and safety.”  

The caucus states that it “works with the military, industry, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other stakeholders to seek fair and equitable solutions to challenges created by UAV operations in the U.S. National Air Space.”  

Members include a collection of border hawks, immigration hardliners and leading congressional voices for the military contracting industry. These include Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), who heads the House Immigration Reform Caucus; Candice Miller (R-Minn.), who heads the Homeland Security subcommittee that reviews the air and marine operations of DHS; Joe Wilson (R-SC); Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.); Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.); Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.); and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.).  

The drone caucus works closely with the industry association AUVSI, which, in addition to the drone fair, sponsored a UAV Action Day on Capitol Hill last year.  

AUVSI has its own congressional advocacy committee that is closely linked to the caucus. The keynote speaker at the drone association’s recent annual conference was McKeon, who is also slated to be the featured speaker at AUVSI’s AIR Day 2011 – in recognition, says AUVSI”s president that Congressman McKeon “has been one of the biggest supporters of the unmanned systems community.”  

While the relationship between increasing drone contracts and the increasing campaign contributions received by drone caucus members can only be speculated, caucus members are favored recipients of contributions by members of the unmanned systems association AUVSI.  

In the 2010 election cycle, political action committees associated with companies that produce drones donated  more than $1.7 million to the 42 congressional members who were members of the congressional drone caucus. The leading recipient was McKeon, who currently chairs the powerful House Armed Services Committee, with Cong. Reyes coming in a close second.  

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, whose Predator drone production facilities are located in McKeon’s Southern California district, is  the fifth largest source of McKeon’s campaign contributions, following Lockheed, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, and SLM. 

Since 2005 – the year that DHS began purchasing Predator drones, the company’s political action committee has contributed  $1.6 million to members of the drone caucus, according to information from the Center for Responsive Politics.  

In that period General Atomics has received $242 million in drone orders from DHS alone. The funds for the latest DHS drone purchases came not for the department’s annual budget but from a $600 million “emergency” supplemental bill that included $32 million to buy two more Predator drones for border security.  

Members of the unmanned systems caucus, including McKeon, Cuellar and McCaul, boast of their influence in pressuring DHS to increase the pace of its drone program.

Congress and Contracts 

At the drone fair this year, Cuellar praised Buck McKeon for being a “big defender of the military.” As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, McKeon is also a major defender of military contractors, especially those with production facilities in his district.  

In a new policy report by the Center for International Policy and Common Cause, William Hartung says that McKeon is the arms industry’s most forceful advocate in the battle to bolster the Pentagon budget. Furthermore, according to Hartung:  

    [Buck McKeon] is the largest recipient of defense industry campaign contributions in the Congress, receiving over three quarters of a million dollars from 2009 through 2011, including $590,000 to his campaign fund and $191,000 to his leadership PAC.  

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