Is Duke a Symptom?

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


This Duke Cunningham story, I’m guessing, will mostly focus on the corruption angle. Here you have a congressman on the Appropriation Committee’s defense subcommittee taking bribes in exchange for helping a defense contractor win contracts. What a sleazeball, etc. For shame, etc. In an ideal world, though, the attention would focus on the much larger problem of the defense appropriations process in general, which makes this sort of thing inevitable.

Defense contractors literally live or die on the contracts that Congress decides to hand out. Most of them have grown up under the mini-command economy that is the annual defense appropriations bill, and wouldn’t know how to survive in the free market. Not surprisingly, contractors tend to put a lot of effort into lobbying and influencing legislators. Between 1997 and 2004, the top 20 defense contractors made $46 million in campaign contributions, and spent $390 million on lobbyists—and were rewarded for their efforts with $560 billion in contracts. Then there’s a permanent revolving door between government and the defense industry, which is laid out in gory detail by the Project on Government Oversight. A lot of money gets sloshed around. Under the circumstances, what happened with Cunningham was bad and illegal, but not completely out of step with the larger trend here.

Even more interesting than Cunningham, perhaps, is MZM Inc., the company that bribed the Duke. The Los Angeles Times reports that the company has received “$163 million in federal contracts, mostly for classified defense projects involving the gathering and analysis of intelligence.” Just to be clear, a firm that bought a house for a corrupt Congressman is doing “classified” intelligence work. Okay, then.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaire owners wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2021 demands.

payment methods

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaire owners wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2021 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate