Friday, December 10, 2010

SpaceX Plays Politics

(Originally noted on Florida SpaceReport.)

OpenSecrets.org, the web site for the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, published Thursday a review of political donations and lobbying by SpaceX and its executives.

The article notes:

Space Exploration Technology's lobbying expenditures, while growing rapidly, still remain just a fraction of those made by well-established (and well-heeled) aerospace firms such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies and BAE Systems, among others.

The corporation's political donations are contributed through their political action committee, SpaceX PAC.

Between January 2009 and Nov. 22, the date of SpaceX PAC's most recent federal report, the group has raised more than $60,000.

And more than 20 federal-level political candidates have received campaign contributions from SpaceX PAC this election cycle through the second quarter of 2010.

Democrats dominate the list of the PAC's beneficiaries, with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Reps. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Chet Edwards (D-Texas) receiving the most cash through the middle of this year. The SpaceX PAC also this cycle made four-figure contributions to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Nevada State Democratic Party.


The trend towards Democrats in this election cycle simply may be due to that party controlling both Congressional houses and therefore committee chairmanships. Mikulski, for example, is the chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA funding. Edwards is a senior member of both the House Budget and the Appropriations Committees. SpaceX corporate headquarters in Hawthorne is just outside Harman's district.

But as the article noted, SpaceX has greased both squeaky wheels. The company employs two lobbyists who are former Republican congressmen, Tom Loeffler and Bob Walker. Mr. Walker along with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich co-authored in February a Washington Times opinion article endorsing President Obama's FY 2011 NASA budget that invests in commercial access to low Earth orbit to close the gap after Shuttle retires to lessen U.S. reliance on the Russian Soyuz to reach the International Space Station.

The Center for Responsive Politics also posted this Excel worksheet listing SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's federal campaign contributions. According to the article:

Musk tends to favor Democrats, although not by much: 55 percent of his partisan contributions have targeted Democratic, while 45 percent has flowed to Republicans since 2003.

The analysis shows that in the 2004 presidential election Musk gave the maximum $2,000 each to both the Bush and Kerry campaigns. In 2008, he gave $2,300 each to Obama and Hillary Clinton, but did not donate to John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidate.

I was a political consultant part-time for many years when I lived in California. Regardless of their leadership's partisan political leanings, it was my experience that corporations set aside partisanship and invest their campaign contributions in candidates who best serve their business interests. When it's unclear who might win, both sides receive largess.

It's one of the many problems with today's political climate in the United States, exacerbated by a January 2010 Supreme Court ruling that blocked Congressional regulation of corporate campaign spending.

For corporations like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX or any other aerospace firm that relies on government contracts, that means they have to "play ball." With established contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin lobbying to kill commercial space to protect their own exclusive government contracts, SpaceX had no choice but to spend money on lobbyists to advance their interests. And should the day come when SpaceX is one of the "big boys," I've no doubt they'll play the same game too.

That's the world we live in. Sigh.

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