The aerospace industry is ramping up its congressional lobbying efforts to the highest levels ever this year. Congressional analysts say this effort, while part of a trend toward greater activity among lobbies in general, is fueled by several factors: Congressional elections are being held this year; the Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction law is throwing uncertainty into the future course of defense budgets; and lawmakers are trying to tighten down on what they see as abusive military procurement practices.
Defense contractors ``know they've entered the era of Gramm-Rudman and diminished expectations,'' says a staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who is in regular contact with defense contractors and their lobbyists. ``The pie isn't going to get any bigger, so they're going to have to fight if they want to see their business increase.''
The nation's biggest defense contractors have doubled their campaign contributions since President Reagan was elected in 1980. According to Federal Election Commission records, the top 20 defense contractors poured $3.6 million into the 1984 campaigns. Despite the fact that 1986 offers no presidential election, analysts expect this year's political donations to be higher.
Does that money buy influence? With rare exceptions, no, say analysts, congressional staff members, and lawmakers. But it does provide access -- the assurance that a lawmaker will at least take the time to hear the donor's side of an issue. Thus, political-action committee money from aerospace companies tends to be particularly invested in the campaigns of lawmakers who sit on committees such as the armed-services and defense-appropriations committees in House and Senate.
Most analysts agree that the aerospace industry's strongest lobbying suit lies in the practice of some companies that spread work on major projects among dozens of suppliers in many different states. That way, major projects often translate into jobs in many congressional districts.
In this way, aerospace lobbyists ``can pull a lot of muscle when they need to,'' says Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R) of Kansas, chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
In the world of Washington lobbies, the aerospace industry has been doing rather nicely. It is wealthy and growing. In stark contrast to the conspicuous arm-twisting that some interests indulge in, aerospace lobbyists blanket the Hill with solicitous discretion.