A one-party system: House Democrats and military spending

Speaking Security Newsletter | Advisory Note for Organizers and Candidates, n°28 | 22 July 2020

I recorded how each House Democrat voted on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and on Mark Pocan’s amendment to the NDAA (that would have reduced military spending by 10 percent). Then I compared the results to how much each of them took from the defense industry so far in the 2020 election cycle (via OpenSecrets). Here’s what I found.

Main finding: a pretty obvious predictor variable

The more money a member of Congress accepts from the defense industry, the higher the probability that they’ll vote how the defense industry wants them to vote. (So probably what you expected.)

One possible takeaway: it’s about class

Evaluating politics through a partisan lens isn’t that useful (especially in this context). It’s easier to make sense of this stuff when you group members of Congress into those who fight for the working class and those who do the opposite.

Policy recommendation: nationalize the defense industry


  1. Vote out members of Congress unwilling to nationalize the defense industry

  2. Elect candidates willing to nationalize the defense industry

  3. Nationalize the defense industry

One way to look at the data

The status quo is totally unacceptable so unless a member of Congress voted for Pocan’s amendment and against the NDAA, they let us down.

If you order the members of Congress based on the amount each of them accepted from the defense sector (2020 cycle) with their respective votes then break your list down (roughly) into fourths, you’ll get something that looks like this:


  • 41 House Democrats didn’t let us down (in this case)

  • These 41 received (on average) $7,005.63 in campaign contributions from the defense industry so far in this election cycle

  • 179 House Democrats did let us down

  • These 179 received (on average) $30,075.85 in campaign contributions from the defense industry so far in this election cycle

  • Adam Smith, Democratic Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, has received $376,650.00 in campaign contributions from the defense industry so far in this election cycle. (He also named the NDAA after his Republican counterpart.)

Conclusion: is this about parochial interests or ideology?

Both. SPRI will have a much more detailed report out on all this soon (including a comprehensive look at each member, their votes, and the extent to which they are a proxy for the defense industry. Plus how this dynamic recently played out in the Senate).

Related: it’s important to note that the defense industry corrupts Congress/policy in other ways, too. By funding pretty much every foreign policy think tank, the US knowledge production system is poisoned by a hideous blend of corporate interests and militarism. That’s why SPRI is grassroots-funded. If you found this or any of our other work useful, please consider becoming a supporter: patreon.com/SPRI.


Stephen (@stephensemler; stephen@securityreform.org)