Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lipstick on a Pig

Click to watch the January 27, 2016 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on ULA use of Russian RD-180 engines.

The Huntsville Times published February 3 a guest column by Alabama Republican state senator Arthur Orr that weaves one of the more fantastical whoppers spewed in recent months by an elected official.

Senator Orr wrote:

With the growing threat of ISIS and other terrorist groups around the world who want to do us harm, it is important now more than ever that our leaders prioritize keeping us safe. Alabama plays a key role in that goal by being the home to where our nation's most secure, reliable, and advanced rockets are built. In Decatur, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) builds the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets which launch our nation's military, NASA, and commercial satellites into space. The ULA plant employs or directly contracts with close to 1,000 Alabamians across north Alabama.

Fortunately for Alabama and our national security, Senator Richard Shelby recently put a stop to a provision pushed by a powerful western Senator at the behest of one of President Obama's top donors, Elon Musk, who owns SpaceX, a ULA competitor. The provision prematurely restricted the military use, but not NASA or commercial use, of the foreign made RD-180 engine used on ULA rockets.

After the Cold War when relations were different between the U.S. and Russia, ULA and other aerospace companies were encouraged by the U.S. government to buy the Russian made RD-180 engine to keep them out of the hands of unfriendly nations like Iran. Because of recent Russian aggressions, ULA desires to use only American made engines and is developing with its partners an American engine to launch its rockets. This process is well underway but will take several years.

In the meantime, powerful friends of Elon Musk in the Senate attempted to destroy Alabama jobs for the far inferior SpaceX rocket with its mixed launch record (ULA has over 100 and counting successful, consecutive launches). No serious effort was made to ban any other Russian products such as oil or metals — just the engines that propel our Alabama-made rockets. And because the Elon Musk rocket would only take care of just over half of our military needs, a huge gap in our nation's defenses would have been created for a period of years.

Musk would have been successful if Senator Richard Shelby hadn't stood up for our nation and Alabama jobs. Because of his efforts, nearly a thousand good-paying jobs and the families they represent are safe. Though it can seem like "inside baseball" politics at times, having someone like Shelby who wields a big stick in Washington is important to the people of Alabama.

We all agree that we should reduce dependence on Russia and make our own engines here in the U.S. But it is unfathomable that anyone would support the reckless position of ending the use of the RD-180 before we have an American engine developed. I am grateful that Senator Shelby is standing up and fighting for the jobs in our state and the security of our nation.


That's a lot of fibs for one guest column.

Let's begin with the false claim that Elon Musk is “one of President Obama's top donors.”

Federal campaign contributions are easily researched at, a database of donations to presidential and congressional candidates by individuals, corporations and political action committees.

A search of Elon Musk campaign contributions from 2007 through 2015 shows these donations to candidate Obama:

  • 7/25/2007 $2,300
  • 4/15/2011 $2,500

That's it.

Mr. Musk donated to many other people, including 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She received $2,300 on 2/19/2008 for the 2008 election. Ms. Clinton received $2,300 and $2,700 contributions this year.

We can find lots of donations to Republicans, including Republican political action committees. Let's look at the Republican PACs:

  • 4/7/2004 National Republican Congressional Committee $5,000
  • 5/15/2005 National Republican Congressional Committee $25,000
  • 3/24/2006 National Republican Congressional Committee $25,000
  • 2/27/2007 National Republican Congressional Committee $25,000
  • 3/17/2008 National Republican Congressional Committee $28,500
  • 3/28/2009 National Republican Congressional Committee $10,000
  • 6/8/2010 Future Leaders PAC $1,000
  • 8/24/2011 Future Leaders PAC $1,000
  • 6/4/2013 National Republican Congressional Committee $32,400
  • 6/7/2013 Longhorn PAC $2,500
  • 8/28/2013 Reclaim America PAC $4,800
  • 9/29/2014 National Republican Congressional Committee $22,400

Senator Orr claims that Musk is one of Obama's top donors. No evidence exists to support that claim. Sure, it's possible that Musk is laundering his donations through third-party PACs. But where's the evidence? Orr provides none. The evidence is persuasive that Musk donates to campaigns and PACs for both parties, as do many business people.

So who is the “powerful western Senator” secretly conspiring with Elon Musk and President Obama?

Orr doesn't say.

But the context certainly suggests Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who in the reality-based world ran against Obama for President in 2008.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the individual with the butt cheeks to whom Mr. Orr has firmly attached his lips, drew the ire of Senator McCain last December. Shelby snuck into the Fiscal Year 2016 budget a provision to delete McCain's restrictions on further purchases by United Launch Alliance of Russian RD-180 engines for launching military payloads. reports that Shelby received $172,544 in the 2011-2016 period from ULA's parent companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ULA is based in Decatur, Alabama, within Mr. Orr's district. Boeing gave $98,044 and Lockheed Martin $74,500.

Shelby is a four-time winner of the Porker of the Month award from Citizens Against Government Waste, due to the frequent intimate connection between his corporate contributors and the legislation he supports benefitting them.

Perhaps what triggered Mr. Orr's fibfest was the January 27, 2016 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing chaired by Senator McCain. The video of that hearing is at the top of this column. McCain opened the hearing with comments in which he specifically called out United Launch Alliance and “the parochial motivations of” Senator Shelby for what McCain views as undermining U.S. national security.

For the record, shows no contributions by Mr. Musk to Senator McCain, either as an individual or by the SpaceX corporation. Senator Shelby has received no donations from Mr. Musk either, which may be the true motivation for Mr. Orr's baseless smear.

Regardless of partisan stripes, I find lying corrupt politicians to be offensive.

If you wish to tell State Senator Orr what you think of him, you can find him on Twitter at @SenatorAOrr. You can also contact him through his web site at

UPDATE February 18, 2016 — A reader kindly pointed out that SpaceX is listed as a donor to the McCain Institute. According to the listing, the contribution was less than $25,000.

Let's recall that the ban was enacted by Congress after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and threatened Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Dmitri Rogozin threatened to cut off ULA access to the RD-180. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, which became law in December 2014, enacted the ban.


  1. While Open Secrets doesn't show any campaign contributions from SpaceX or Musk to McCain, if you go to and search their donor list, you might see a familiar name. But it's not a "campaign contribution" so it doesn't show up on OpenSecrets. Admittedly, they're only in the "less than $24,999" category, so we don't know how much they actually donated. We also don't know if any of the other anonymous donations were from anyone SpaceX connected or not, because unlike campaign contributions, donations to institutes run by Senators apparently aren't worth tracking, because they're not money trying to influence politices like campaign donations... or something like that.

    Totally agree though that the "Musk is a big Obama donor" line is kind of sad and worn. I just wish our Congresspeople would stop trying to tip the scales for or against ULA *or* SpaceX, and just let them compete.


  2. Stephen,

    I was morbidly curious, so I checked on the Wayback Machine to see when SpaceX made it's charitable contribution to the good Senator's International Leadership institute. I didn't see them on the first entry (April 2014), but they were there by the second entry (June 2014):*/

    McCain added the amendment to the NDAA banning RD-180s in May of 2014... I'm sure the timing was purely coincidental...


  3. Jon, thanks for the new information. I added an update at the bottom of the article.