Nearly every defense contractor that Southern California lawmakers boasted securing federal funding for over the past three years also made political contributions, according to a review by the Los Angeles Newspaper Group. In the review of 32 private firms in Southern California that won money in federal spending bills since 2003, all but two made political donations to national or local lawmakers through their top executives, political action committees or Washington, D.C., lobbyists. The companies gave more than $10.8 million nationally, with about $200,000 going to Southland lawmakers who championed their specific projects. The companies, in turn, got more than $203.8 million in funding for everything from construction of unmanned aerial vehicles to fiber optic research. “It has become a pay-to-play system,” said Keith Ashdown, spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan budget watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. “If you want to get federal contracts or earmarks, you have to support and financially back those in Congress. It doesn’t always mean you get want you want, but it opens the door.” All of the contributions were within the legal limits, and the earmarks have not sparked any allegations of misconduct. But two recent high-profile Congressional influence-peddling scandals are putting such dealings under a microscope, highlighting what insiders say is a pervasive culture where money opens doors on Capitol Hill. “All of this is now under scrutiny, and everybody is scared to death,” said Winslow T. Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C. The newspaper review targeted projects that Southern California lawmakers announced they helped secure funds for since 2003, and used Federal Election Campaign reports and PoliticalMoneyLine.com, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public disclosure Web site, to analyze campaign contributions. While millions of dollars were secured for public universities and local military bases, area congressional members also brought between $32 million and $106 million annually to defense contractors performing work in their districts. Donors ranged from multibillion defense contractors such as Boeing and Northrop Grumman to smaller local companies. Recipients included longtime champions of defense projects such as Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Long Beach, whose district is home to C-17 transport plane production, and lawmakers who lead key committees such as House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-San Diego. They also included local lawmakers who rarely get involved in national defense issues, such as Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs. Donations ranged from $250 to $20,000. “It’s a very easy game of compound interest. You give thousands, you get millions,” Ashdown said. Southern California lawmakers maintain the donations did not influence their decisions to seek appropriations, and the companies said the contributions were made with no expectation of a return. Chang Industries in La Verne, AeroVironment Inc. in Monrovia and City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte won a total of $38 million in federal appropriations over the past three years with the help of Rep. David Dreier, R-Glendora. Over that period, the companies contributed more than $50,000 to lawmakers – about $20,500 of that to Dreier. Dreier, tapped by House Speaker Dennis Hastert to design new ethics rules last week, did not return a call seeking comment. In an e-mailed statement a Dreier spokeswoman called the companies Dreier supports “beyond reproach.” AeroVironment did not make company officials available for comment, but the other companies said their donations had nothing to with winning federal funding. Napolitano helped win $6 million for United Technologies, a Connecticut firm with offices in her Pomona district. A recent $1 million contract will be spent upgrading certain atmospheric monitoring systems for older Los Angeles Class Navy submarines, with work being done locally. The company, in turn, made more than $1 million in political contributions, including $5,000 to Napolitano. “I want jobs in my district, and I don’t push people to contribute,” Napolitano said. “I actually made a phone call for them, and that was the last time I heard from them. I don’t expect anything. I’m working to represent my district. I don’t do it for the favors or for the money. “My working premise is, `I don’t buy, and I don’t sell,’ ” she said. “There is a lot of backroom dealing and that is not how I work. The people need to elect (candidates) who are honest and ethical. I havealways held myself as an honest person, and I don’t `quid pro quo’ anyone.” United Technologies spokesman Scott Seligman said in a statement that the company donates to candidates “with whom we have common goals, such as removing barriers to trade, maintaining a strong national defense and space exploration.” Wheeler, a former aide to Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who worked for years on defense appropriations, said that despite what lawmakers and companies say, the wheels of Washington are greased with campaign contributions. “A competent congressional staff will check on whether or not a manufacturer made a contribution last year, and that will typically affect the enthusiasm with which the office seeks an earmark for the following year,” Wheeler said. While openly discussing fundraising is forbidden for both staff and lawmakers as well as contractors, “both sides understand it’s going to occur,” he said. It’s a characterization Southland lawmakers and their aides deny. But many acknowledge that Congress has a public perception problem that’s going to be tough to change. “I would love to see a system of reform that could take us to the meaningful elimination of contributions from private interest groups,” said Lewis. “But we’re not going to be able to, that’s the problem.” [email protected] (202) 662-8731 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!