Boeing, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, also is one of the biggest players in the Washington influence game – spending millions to lobby Congress and the executive branch each year.
Last year, Boeing’s spending on lobbying topped $15.1 million, federal records show. The company ranks No. 10 in lobbying activity in Washington since 1998, according to a tally by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That falls way behind the big trade groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Hospital Association, but ahead of some of its competitors for the government’s lucrative defense business, such as Lockheed Martin.
Boeing has also deployed dozens of lobbyists, many working for outside firms, to help shape government policy.
Further cementing the company’s Capitol Hill ties, a former Boeing lobbyist now serves as staff director on the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The committee on Tuesday announced it would hold a hearing at a future date about aviation safety, following Sunday’s deadly crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft on a flight from Ethiopia to Kenya.
John Keast, a former principal at Cornerstone Government Affairs, lobbied the House and Senate last year on Boeing’s behalf, according to lobbying reports filed with the Senate. Boeing spent $200,000 last year with Cornerstone, a tiny fraction of its overall lobbying bill.
Keast has long-standing ties to the committee’s chairman, GOP Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi. He previously served as Wicker’s chief of staff in the US House of Representatives and managed Wicker’s first successful House campaign, in 1994.
Wicker’s aides indicated that Keast would work on aviation safety issues for the panel because his advocacy on behalf of Boeing focused narrowly on defense matters.
“While at Cornerstone Government Affairs, John Keast lobbied for a variety of clients including Boeing on defense issues only,” Wicker spokeswoman Brianna Manzelli said in a statement to CNN.
She said Wicker “has personally been actively engaged” with the leadership of the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board on Sunday’s accident.
More than two dozen airlines around the globe have grounded the 737 MAX 8 since Sunday’s accident, the second crash of the model in six months. Federal authorities have not ordered the planes grounded in the United States. In a conversation on Tuesday with President Donald Trump, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg “reiterated” to the President the company’s position that the aircraft is safe, a Boeing spokesman said.
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Wicker said he “absolutely” would fly on the MAX 8.
When asked whether Congress should weigh in on whether the planes should be grounded, he said: “We have professionals tasked with that job, and I wouldn’t interfere with that.”
Millions in contributions
Boeing’s political action committee and its employees also donate millions to federal candidates in each election cycle. More than $4.5 million went to congressional candidates and other political committees in the 2018 midterms alone, according to the center’s data. Boeing divided its political giving to candidates roughly evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, was the biggest recipient of money that Boeing’s PAC and its employees directed to a candidate, totaling a little more than $54,000 in the midterms, according to the center’s data.
Cantwell, who was elected to a fourth term last November, serves as the top Democrat on the Senate’s commerce and transportation panel. Boeing has roots and operations in Seattle.
Wicker received $10,000 from Boeing’s PAC in the midterms, records show.
The company’s political action committee also donated the maximum $10,000 to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the midterms, Federal Election Commission data show. This week, the California Democrat called on Boeing to ground all of its 737 MAX 8 aircraft until an investigation into Sunday’s crash is complete.
In the 2016 presidential election, Boeing employees donated more heavily to Democrat Hillary Clinton than to Trump, who largely financed his first political campaign with small-dollar contributions and his own money.
But the aircraft giant made up for the gap after the election with a $1 million donation to Trump’s inaugural committee.
Federal law bars corporations from donating directly to candidates, but they can give to inaugural committees and face no legal limits on the amount they can contribute to support the festivities surrounding a presidential swearing-in.
Boeing had donated $300,000 to the committee tied to President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Obama chose not to accept corporate money for his first inauguration in 2009.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to more fully reflect how long Boeing has been the No. 10 lobbyist according to the Center for Responsive Politics.