Just when you thought the credibility of the Republican-led House of Representatives couldn't get any lower, an unbelievable story of legalized bribery has emerged concerning a former defense industry executive turned high-powered House Republican staffer.
The investigative news team at the Republic Report broke a crazy story about mega defense manufacturer — Northrop Grumman — giving one of its top executives a half-million dollar bonus, shortly before he left to serve on the Republican majority staff on the powerful congressional committee that oversees the defense budget.1
Thomas MacKenzie, a vice president at Northrop Grumman, received a $498,334 bonus just before he went to work as a top policy staffer for Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) of the House Armed Services Committee.2 As a congressional staffer, MacKenzie now makes close to $120,000 a year.3
It's a payment that would have been illegal had it come days later after he officially started work, yet because of the timing it's perfectly legal. But that doesn't meant it's acceptable. Instead it brings to light an astonishing conflict of interest that shatters any semblance of integrity in a committee that controls massive amounts of money and plays a pivotal role in national security decisions.
In the pay-to-play corrupt swamp that is Washington DC, lobbyists often accept low-paid public service jobs in Congress and work in policy areas that impact their former or future private sector employers. These lobbyists cash out through a 'revolving door' and assume high-paid positions in lobbying firms once they establish close connections with key members of Congress and their Capitol Hill staffers.
It's outrageous that MacKenzie would be so brazen as to take a half-million dollar bonus from his defense contractor employer before accepting a staff job on Capitol Hill that will pay a fraction of that in salary, but will put him in a position to generate trillions of dollars in contracts for his former bosses.
Northrop Grumman happens to be the fourth largest arms maker in the world, raking in $2.12 billion in reported earnings last year.4 Naturally, Northrop Grumman follows defense budget related legislative maneuvers in Congress very closely, especially since it is currently in the process of promoting an unnecessary and expensive drone program and building F-35 fighter jets that would cost tax payers as much as $1.45 trillion due to cost overruns. It's also the maker of a new fleet of nuclear bombers that may be in jeopardy, since the Pentagon may be forced to make deep cuts under last year's budget deal.5
Thus, the circumstances around MacKenzie's bonus are extremely suspicious. As noted by congressional watchdogs of wasteful military spending by Congress, this kind of "reverse revolving door" — where former lobbyists become officials in public institutions responsible for deciding policy matters impacting former employers — can have a "pernicious affect" on public policy.6
One prominent lawmaker in Congress, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), has already spoken out about the circumstances of MacKenzie's bonus, expressing concern "about the integrity of the Defense Department budget if it is tainted by any whiff of a payoff."7
Congressional staffers that engage in pay-to-play politics are rarely singled out for public scrutiny. If MacKenzie hears directly from thousands of concerned Americans asking him to resign in the interest of the integrity of our legislative process, he may feel enough pressure to do the right thing and resign.
Click below to automatically sign our petition asking MacKenzie to give up his powerful position in the House Armed Services Committee which is irrevocably tainted by his half-million dollar pay off from Northrup Grumman.
Thank you for speaking to truth to the power.
Murshed Zaheed, Deputy Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets
1. Lee Fang, "Exclusive: Northrop Grumman Awards Lobbyist $500K Bonus Weeks Before Becoming Low-Paid Congressional Staffer Shaping Military Policy," RepublicReport.org, June 11, 2012.
4. "Northrop Grumman 4Q earnings rise 46 percent," Boston.com, February 1, 2012.
5. Fang, "Exclusive: Northrop Grumman Awards Lobbyist $500K Bonus Weeks Before Becoming Low-Paid Congressional Staffer Shaping Military Policy," June 11, 2012.
7. Lee Fang, "Sen. Blumenthal Demands Answers From Northrop Grumman Following Our Scoop," RepublicReport.org, June 13, 2012.