Texas Republican Rep. Kay Granger, who co-founded the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus in 2011 to fend off budget cuts to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 weapons system, is the new chair of the committee that doles out hundreds of billions of dollars to fund defense contracts.
With Republicans taking control of the U.S. House, this week Granger took the gavel of the House Committee on Appropriations, which allocates federal funds and takes the lead on supplemental spending bills throughout the year. Granger’s leadership of the committee comes after she was elected its ranking member by Republicans in 2019.
The new Republican House majority has introduced uncertainty to federal budgeting plans this year, unsteadying even military spending, which has been on the rise for the past eight years. In negotiations with his caucus to become House Speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy reportedly made a deal that could cap federal spending at 2022 levels, which would walk back some $75 billion that was added to the 2023 defense authorization package at the end of last year. Shortly after news of McCarthy’s deal with House Freedom Caucus members came out, with the possibility that Pentagon outlays would be trimmed from planned levels, stocks of defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman tumbled.
In Granger, however, Lockheed Martin and proponents of sky-high Pentagon budgets have a longtime ally atop the Appropriations Committee, one who still belongs to the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus and previously co-chaired the bipartisan group. The troubled F-35 fighter’s main production facility is an Air Force plant in Fort Worth, part of the North Texas district that Granger has represented since 1997.
After McCarthy’s election, Granger put out a statement pushing back, stating that she does not plan to cut military spending.
“I look forward to working with Speaker McCarthy, the rest of our leadership, and other full committee chairs to cut wasteful spending while maintaining our national security priorities,” Granger said. “There have been reports that House Republicans support cutting our national defense. Let me be clear — this House Republican does not support that position.”
Granger’s preference for military spending over the years has resulted in a stream of campaign contributions from top defense contractors. The defense sector has given her campaigns nearly $2.4 million over her career, according to OpenSecrets’ count of employee and PAC donations—the most of any current House member, including the new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama.
Lockheed Martin’s employees and PAC have been by far Granger’s top donors, combining for nearly $800,000 given to her campaigns to date. Nearly $200,000 of that amount came in the 2020 election cycle, when Granger was the top recipient of Lockheed employees’ and PAC donations among all House members. In the last cycle, Granger’s donations as of Oct. 28, 2022 placed her third among House members, just behind Rogers.
Now in her fourteenth term in the U.S. House, the defense aerospace industry has been the top industry contributing to Granger’s campaigns, with more than $1.3 million given according to OpenSecrets. Other defense contractors whose employees and PACs have combined for six-figure total donations to Granger over her career include Raytheon, Textron, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman.
Rising Military Spending
For fiscal year 2023, the amount Congress authorized for defense spending reached a record $858 billion, defense policy analyst Stephen Semler documented, an increase of about 15% over the final defense budget under the Trump administration. Last month, Granger praised the move by lawmakers in both parties to hike the amount authorized for 2023 by a whopping $45 billion above the Biden administration’s request, highlighting the role of defense contractors in her district. The magazine Responsible Statecraft reported recently that Granger’s contractor-dense district saw income of $12 billion from defense in 2021.
Granger put her stamp on defense spending as a co-founder of the bipartisan Joint Strike Fighter Caucus, alongside former Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash). In letters like one signed by 132 representatives in the previous Congress, the caucus lobbied against cuts being considered to the F-35 stealth aircraft and its sprawling programs, warning that scaling back the F-35 would lead to a capabilities gap with “adversaries like China and Russia.” The F-35 stands as over a decade delayed and $165 billion over budget, as tracked by the nonpartisan watchdog Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
Dan Grazier, senior policy defense fellow at POGO, told Sludge, “The decision to increase F-35 production levels should be based on testing results alone. The F-35 program still hasn’t completed the initial operational testing period, and officials have yet to say when they may be able to complete all the testing events. Until the tests can be completed and the results are properly evaluated, any proposal to sink more money into the program should be heavily scrutinized.”
In the 115th Congress of 2017-2018, Granger chaired the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. As a “vocal supporter of important weapons programs” including Lockheed’s F-35, Granger’s House website makes her position clear: “These programs are integral to our national security and play a vital role in our military’s offensive and defensive strategies.” In 2020, she welcomed the Air Force Secretary and Sen. Ted Cruz on a tour of the F-35 facility, and has advocated for defense spending with reporters while cheering Lockheed Martin on social media and touting the F-35 fighter.
A spending package passed by Congress at the end of December and signed into law to fund the government through September directs $8.5 billion to purchase 61 of the F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. The most expensive weapons system in history, the total that Congress has authorized for the defect-plagued F-35 over its lifetime is more than $1.7 trillion.
A 2018 report from POGO, Brass Parachutes, counted the exodus of former federal government employees, including senior congressional staff, to become lobbyists at defense contractors—influence-peddling that aids weapons companies in landing defense contracts.
Granger’s new position stands to benefit many of her former House staffers, who have gone through the revolving door and now lobby for defense contractors—including a longtime Lockheed Martin lobbyist and executive who controls the company’s PAC.
Robert Head, vice president for state government and political affairs at Lockheed Martin, began working for Granger in November 2000 as a legislative assistant, lobbying disclosures show. Head worked as Granger’s chief of staff from March 2006 to April 2009, according to lobbying records. Immediately after leaving Granger’s office, he registered to lobby for Lockheed. Last year, Head lobbied on issues including the defense appropriations act and “aircraft, helicopter, technology programs.” In the 2020 election cycle, Head became treasurer of the Lockheed Martin PAC, a role he held in the 2022 cycle as well. Granger’s campaign continued to receive the per-cycle maximum of $10,000 from Lockheed’s PAC, as it had in previous elections, according to FEC records, and Head donated a total of $7,300 to Granger over the past two cycles.
In 2021, Lockheed Martin was thirteenth overall in spending on lobbying Congress and federal agencies, shelling out more than $14.4 million, ahead of the broadband industry’s top lobby group and the AARP. That year, Lockheed Martin received $64.5 billion in defense contracts, according to a tally by Defense News, making up virtually all of its revenue.
Lockheed Martin did not respond to a request for comment on how Granger’s former chief of staff would interact with her office and the House of Representatives in his lobbying activities.
Another former chief of staff to Granger, Chelsey P. Hickman, lobbies Congress on defense appropriations with the bipartisan firm Winning Strategies Washington for clients including AVX Aircraft, which develops vertical lift designs for commercial and military applications, as well as defense manufacturer Frontier Polymers and defense solutions provider Marotta Controls.
Krister Holladay was Granger’s chief of staff, and now according to his LinkedIn profile works as the director of legislative affairs for military logistics company American President Lines, where he lobbies the House and Senate on defense appropriations.
Former Granger chief of staff Barry Brown lobbies Congress on defense appropriations and “issues affecting defense procurement” with the firm Alpine Group Partners for clients with military business including manufacturing company Eaton Corporation.
Jordon Sims, another former Granger chief of staff, is a lobbyist and founding partner at Imperium Global Advisors, which touts its experience in lobbying on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for its clients. One of Sims’ lobbying clients, software systems company Industrial Defender, examined cybersecurity funding areas in the $858 billion defense policy bill in a blog post last month. The cybersecurity firm was acquired by Lockheed Martin in 2014.
A former communications director for Granger from October 2017 to January 2019, Kevin Boland, held positions for a couple years at Lockheed Martin, according to his LinkedIn profile, including in international government affairs. In late 2021, he took a position at Saab, and lobbied Congress last year for the defense contractor on issues of defense appropriations.
Former Republican National Committee chair Ken Melhman was Granger’s first chief of staff, and now is the partner, global head of public affairs for private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR). In 2019, KKR acquired defense and aerospace manufacturer Novaria Group, which last year acquired a sheet metal manufacturing company whose defense clients include Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
Granger’s current chief of staff, Steve Ruhlen, is a former lobbyist whose clients have included tobacco company Reynolds American and JPMorgan Chase. After a 2015 stint as interim chief of staff to Granger, Ruhlen lobbied in 2017 on behalf of software provider SAS Institute regarding data analytics in the Department of Defense, then joined lobbying firm Total Spectrum. He returned to work as Granger’s chief of staff in April 2022, according to his Linkedin profile.
Granger’s House office did not respond to a request for comment on how, as Appropriations chair, the congresswoman would pursue oversight of the F-35 program and other areas of military spending.