BY DAVID KRAVETS
The numbers tell the story — in votes and dollars. On Wednesday, the House voted 217 to 205 not to rein in the NSA’s phone-spying dragnet. It turns out that those 217 “no” voters received twice as much campaign financing from the defense and intelligence industry as the 205 “yes” voters.
That’s the upshot of a new analysis by MapLight, a Berkeley-based non-profit that performed the inquiry at WIRED’s request. The investigation shows that defense cash was a better predictor of a member’s vote on the Amash amendment than party affiliation. House members who voted to continue the massive phone-call-metadata spy program, on average, raked in 122 percent more money from defense contractors than those who voted to dismantle it.
Overall, political action committees and employees from defense and intelligence firms such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Technologies, Honeywell International, and others ponied up $12.97 million in donations for a two-year period ending December 31, 2012, according to the analysis, which MapLight performed with financing data from OpenSecrets. Lawmakers who voted to continue the NSA dragnet-surveillance program averaged $41,635 from the pot, whereas House members who voted to repeal authority averaged $18,765.
Of the top 10 money getters, only one House member — Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia) — voted to end the program.
“How can we trust legislators to vote in the public interest when they are dependent on industry campaign funding to get elected? Our broken money and politics system forces lawmakers into a conflict of interest between lawmakers’ voters and their donors,” said Daniel G. Newman, MapLight’s president and co-founder.
The Guardian newspaper disclosed the phone-metadata spying last month with documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The House voted 205-217 Wednesday and defeated an amendment to the roughly $600 billion Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2014 that would have ended authority for the once-secret spy program the White House insisted was necessary to protect national security.
The amendment (.pdf) was proposed by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan), who received a fraction of the money from the defense industry compared to top earners. For example, Amash got $1,400 — ranking him in the bottom 50 for the two-year period. On the flip side, Rep. Howard McKeon (R-California) scored $526,600 to lead the House in defense contributions. He voted against Amash.
Of the 26 House members who voted and did not receive any defense financing, 16 voted for the Amash amendment.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) voted against the measure. He ranked 15th in defense earnings with a $131,000 take. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) also voted against Amash. Pelosi took in $47,000 from defense firms over the two-year period.
Ninety-four Republicans voted for the amendment as did 111 Democrats.
The Amash amendment was in response to the disclosure of a leaked copy of a top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion requiring Verizon Business to provide the National Security Agency the phone numbers of both parties involved in all calls, the international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number for mobile callers, calling card numbers used in the call, and the time and duration of the calls.
The government confirmed the authenticity of the leak and last week suggested many more, or “certain telecommunication service providers” are required to fork over the same type of metadata. The government says it needs all the data to sift out terrorist needles in a haystack. The program began shortly after the 2001 terror attacks.
The vote list follows. (A “no” vote is a vote to continue the NSA’s phone spying.)