Defense Industry Donations and the Alan Grayson Police Militarization Amendment

By Starks, Tim | Roll Call, August 15, 2014 | Go to article overview

Defense Industry Donations and the Alan Grayson Police Militarization Amendment


Starks, Tim, Roll Call


With images of heavily armed police confronting protesters in Ferguson, Mo., sparking a national debate about police militarization, a campaign finance research organization has released a study showing how much defense industry money House members got before a June 19 vote that rejected Rep. Alan Grayson's amendment to block military equipment transfers to local law enforcement. The organization, MapLight, found that those who voted against it got 73 percent more in defense industry donations than those who voted in favor.

But there are probably bigger reasons for the vote going the way it did. And the issue could come up again in Congress -- Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., promised Friday to review the program before his committee's fiscal 2015 defense policy bill comes to the floor; Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., has put forward new legislation; and others are calling for hearings. So it's worth reviewing the motivations for those votes.

It's not as if campaign donations can't sway a vote, or make a lawmaker more inclined to support a certain industry. But the so- called 1033 program that Grayson, D-Fla., was going after sends excess military surplus to local police, which means that in most cases, the defense contractors who originally supplied the equipment to the Pentagon had little direct stake in the outcome.

MapLight, however, cited an American Civil Liberties Union report that the 1033 program is providing new equipment in 36 percent of the cases.

"Thus, it appears that DLA [Defense Logistics Agency] can simply purchase property from an equipment or weapons manufacturer and transfer it to a local law enforcement agency free of charge," the ACLU report states. "Given that more than a third of property transferred under the program is in fact new, it appears that this practice happens with some regularity."

Daniel G. Newman, president and co-founder of MapLight, said a potential additional benefit would be if contractors could then find a secondary market for their equipment, such as with replacement parts, or if a local government that got one free drone from the 1033 program wanted to buy another directly from the contractor. …

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