The Gift Economy

Published — February 5, 2015 Updated — July 17, 2015 at 4:50 pm ET

The defense industry’s friend inside Congress and outside Congress

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel walks with U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon of California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Nov. 16, 2013. Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/

It’s a shocker — the retired House Armed Services Committee chairman stays in Washington to work for industry clients


March Update: Shortly after this article was published, former congressman McKeon’s new lobbying firm was retained by rocket and missile defense contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne, for lobbying on “appropriations and authorization related issues and initiatives,” according to a lobbying filing submitted to the Senate. Aerojet’s political action committee was a contributor to McKeon’s campaign from 2006 to 2014, funneling a total of $31,000 to him.

Newly-retired House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon is opening a consulting firm in Washington, becoming one of the latest lawmakers to shift from overseeing a major U.S. industry and writing laws that affect its health to peddling influence in the capital, most likely on behalf of that industry.

McKeon, a severe critic of the budget sequestration law’s impact on national security, has long been close to the defense contractors and weapons manufacturers that depended on a stream of funding authorized by his committee. Since 2003, 10 of the largest defense firms and their lobbyists contributed more than a million dollars to his political campaigns (at least $1,054,275 in 2013 adjusted dollars, according to our calculations), more than to any other member of his committee.

McKeon firm’s new website is hardly subtle about his objectives, with the headline “RESPONSIVE. RELIABLE. RESULTS” plastered across a panorama shot of the U.S. Capitol, with another headline touting “decades of experience and a vast network.”

Like all House members, McKeon is barred from lobbying his former colleagues for the first year after leaving Congress. But that didn’t keep him from bluntly advertising his ability to influence those who make policy and set budgets — by providing “strategic analysis, advocacy and comprehensive government relations,” according to a press release he issued on Feb. 2.

As chairman and CEO of The McKeon Group, he’ll provide the “overall vision and direction,” according to the release. “Having served” as Armed Services chairman, “Mr. McKeon looks forward to using his background and experience to provide strategic advice to clients, while continuing to be outspoken for a strong national defense.”

If McKeon eventually registers to lobby for the industry, he would be joining at least 97 other former members of Congress that have lobbied for the largest defense companies from 2003 through 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity‘s tally.

Robert Cochran, the former chief of staff in McKeon’s congressional office, will be a senior partner at the firm, but without the immediate lobbying constraint meant to cover McKeon. Cochran has been lobbying his former colleagues on Capitol Hill since January 2013, according to a Senate registration, working at the Porter Gordon Silver firm in Washington. His clients there included the Florida-based Harris Corporation, which makes military radio encryption products and communications software, and California-based Aerojet Rocketdyne, a rocket and missile manufacturer.

Cochran ran McKeon’s former political action committee, the 21st Century PAC, before it shut down last month. And last fall, he was listed in brochures published by the Reagan National Defense Forum as a fundraiser. The forum was held in November at the Reagan library located in California, and McKeon was the honorary chairman.

The Forum’s symposium and awards dinner were attended by many defense officials, journalists, lawmakers and industry representatives, including Marillyn Hewson, the head of the F-35 military jet manufacturer Lockheed Martin, and Wes Bush, the CEO of Northrop Grumman, the maker of the Global Hawk reconnaissance drone. Lockheed Martin paid $25,000 to the event’s host, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, while Northrop Grumman — a Platinum sponsor for the event — paid $250,000, according to disclosures the companies filed with the Senate and the House of Representatives.

In a brief phone conversation, Cochran said the firm has already retained “a couple of clients” but then promptly said he had to go, and didn’t return further calls. A request for comment left on Rep. McKeon’s phone wasn’t returned.

The firm’s new offices are located in the same Capitol Hill building that houses the Charlie Palmer steakhouse, a noted lobbyist hangout, and several other lobbying groups, including one of D.C.’s largest lobbying firms, Van Scoyoc Associates, which represents major defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin.

Van Scoyoc chief of staff Ross Kyle is the registered agent for The McKeon Group, according to Washington, D.C. incorporation records. Kyle said in a phone conversation that there was no connection between the two firms, but that “I know the lawyer who was filing their documents. You need to be a DC resident, so he asked me to file the papers.” The lawyer, identified by Kyle as Gary Marx of Marx and Lieberman, is also the general counsel to Van Scoyoc Asssociates, according to Marx and Lieberman’s website.

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