This post has been updated with comments from Rep. Adam Smith's office.
Yesterday, we added on to an ABC News report about U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-9, south Puget Sound).
The ABC report hit Smith for backing a fighter plane project that the DOD itself says it doesn't want or need. They called it a $3 billion "boondoggle" for GE, the contractor.
Here's the deal: Lockheed Martin manufactures the F-35 fighter plane and Pratt & Whitney makes the engine. The House Armed Services Committee sent the defense authorization bill to the floor this week—funding a second company, GE, to also manufacture an F-35 engine. (The engine contracts could be worth $100 billion over their lifetime, according to the New York Times.) The DOD says it doesn't need two companies making the engine and will ask President Obama to veto the proposal.
Our add-on: We found that GE had contributed $2,500 to Smith, who chairs the Armed Services Committee's Air and Land Force Subcommittee. (Lockheed Martin is one of Smith's top 10 contributors at $6000, by the way.)
Today we found some more info about contributions to Smith. A firm that lobbies for GE is Smith's top contributor this election cycle, ahead of Boeing.
Denny Miller Associates, which has a $20,000 contract with GE Aviation Systems, contributed $15,800 between March and May during GE's big lobbying push according to his current finance disclosure reports.
Smith's office said they would get back to us. In the ABC video, Smith defends the GE contract by explaining that the second project promotes competition.
UPDATE: Rep. Smith's spokesman Michael Amato called us back. He says "the ABC story was biased and did a disservice to the public policy debate." He points out that two different companies made engines for the F-35 since 1996, and it was only in 2006, when the program went over budget that the DOD started objecting to having a second engine contract.
Amato says the reason Congress has passed a budget that funds two separate engine contracts for the F-35 is because the competing companies "keep each other honest" and so the military isn't at the financial mercy of one company to keep costs down and meet deadlines.
"It's also a national security issue," Amato points out. "With the F-35 projected to make up 95 percent of U.S. manned fighters in a few decades, it is too risky to have only one engine manufacturer. In the event that only one engine is available for these aircraft, the smallest malfunction could threaten to cripple the fleet. Having a competing engine is a prudent way to mitigate this risk."
Regarding our reporting on the hefty contributions from GE's lobbying firm, Amato acknowledges that Rep. Smith was lobbied on the issue, but said Smith's position is consistent with the Armed Service Committee going back to 1996 (Congress has funded two engine contracts since then) and with the DOD, which also supported the idea up until 2006.
Amato also points out that Denny Miller Associates also lobbies for other groups besides GE that have interests before Smith—like Boeing, Highline Community College, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, and the Port of Tacoma.
The House will take up the defense budget tomorrow and Amato expects Rep. John B. Larson (D-CT) will try and strip the GE funding out. The Pratt Whitney engine is made in Larson's district.