Troops with the U.S. Army’s 1st Armoured Battalion of the 9th Regiment, 1st Division from Fort Hood in Texas prepare for defense exercises in Lithuania in 2019.
Troops with the U.S. Army’s 1st Armoured Battalion of the 9th Regiment, 1st Division from Fort Hood in Texas prepare for defense exercises in Lithuania in 2019.
Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis (AP)

51 members of Congress or their spouses own between $2.8 million to $5.3 million worth of stock in the top 30 defense contractors worldwide, Sludge reported on Monday, thus placing them in a position to potentially profit from the U.S. military contracting process or wars waged with the firms’ equipment.

According to Sludge, the data was compiled by having a bot sift through financial disclosure forms hosted on the House and Senate websites; the $2.5 million gap between the upper and lower estimates is because many members of Congress only report in ranges. 18 of the congresspeople collectively own up to $760,000 in Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor by revenue, and which surged 4.3 percent after the Trump administration assassinated a top Iranian official by drone earlier this month, Sludge wrote.

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According to the review, nearly one-third of the Senate Appropriations subcomittee for defense spending—which regularly reviews big-ticket expenditures in the billions of dollars for the U.S. military—own stocks in big contractors. Four members of the House Foreign Affairs committee, which approves arms sales, have stock in companies that must seek their approval to sell weaponry and other military equipment to foreigners. That list includes Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics, per Sludge.

The investments appear to be broadly bipartisan. In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein ($650,000), Sheldon Whitehouse ($348,998), John Hoeven ($250,000), Tom Carper ($130,000), Rick Scott ($106,000), Susan Collins ($101,000), Roy Blunt ($100,000), and David Perdue ($100,000) top the list.

In the House, Steve Cohen ($415,000), Gerry Connolly ($400,000), Ro Khanna ($376,000), Greg Gianforte ($309,856), Debbie Dingell ($300,000), Phil Roe ($203,230), Fred Upton ($155,000), Bob Gibbs ($150,000), Joe Kennedy ($150,000), Kevin Hern ($150,000), Francis Rooney ($135,000), and David Joyce, David Price, and Thomas Suozzi ($100,000 each) come in on top.

Spokespeople for members of Congress contacted by Sludge said their or their spouses’ investments in defense contractors do not affect their decision-making. Senator Feinstein’s office told the site that she “has no involvement in her husband’s financial and business decisions” and that the $650,000 in Boeing stock belonging to her spouse was managed by a blind trust. Representative Ro Khanna, whose wife holds $376,000 in stock from seven defense companies, told Sludge that he has “not personally invested in any defense stocks” and has “consistently voted against bloated defense spending and sought accountability from some of our nation’s largest defense contractors.”

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The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently estimated that approximately $420 billion in arms sales were conducted globally in 2018, up around 4.6 percent from the year prior, according to USA Today. U.S. companies accounted for roughly 59 percent of sales by the top 100 contractors.

Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and L3 all saw their stocks rise in the wake of a Dec. 27, 2019 attack on a U.S. contractor in Iraq in the leadup to the drone assassination, Marketwatch recently reported. Estimates of the total U.S. defense budget have come in far higher than the $750 billion Donald Trump requested in his fiscal year 2020 budget, with a report by the Nation in May 2019 finding total defense-related spending requests came to around $1.25 trillion (“much of it wasted, misguided, or simply counterproductive”). Reports regularly find countless billions of dollars in Pentagon waste.

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“Members of Congress should divest from all investments tied to their congressional responsibilities and avoid any actual or potential conflicts of interest or ethics dilemmas,” Project on Government Oversight general counsel Scott Amey told Sludge.

Defense is one of the most politically powerful industries in DC. While overall donations to candidates are lower than many other sectors, Open Secrets data shows the industry donated over $27 million to candidates and committees from 2019-2020 and usually spends well over $100 million annually. In the wake of the U.S. strike on the Iranian official, retiring chairman of the House subcommittee on defense appropriations Representative Pete Visclosky was among the Democrats who remained silent. He received $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the defense industry since 1989, Sludge separately reported.

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"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post

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