Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and businessman Elon Musk, creator of SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity, have enjoyed a long and close business and political relationship that have helped support the senator while enriching Musk at taxpayer expense. Musk and his companies have support McCain and his McCain Institute while the senator has consistently supported and advanced the legislative interests of Musk’s companies in the Senate.
Despite being bolstered by the benefit of about $4.9 billion in government funding, Musk’s companies have recently lost more than $3.5 billion in value. This loss in stock value was calculated at about half the value of Musk’s ownership in three companies. Despite the growing financial challenges the companies face, Sen. McCain has remained firmly in support of Musk and his business ventures.
SpaceX had a spectacular failure when it’s unmanned CRS-7 rocket exploded last year, and earlier this year had its third failure when it failed to land its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the sea. While a competing provider of launch rockets has had a stellar record of success, Sen. McCain has instead pushed for SpaceX to receive government contracts for rocket launches. Even after those failures, McCain stood firmly with SpaceX. While other members of Congress expressed doubts, and raised questions about SpaceX, McCain remained firm in his support of Musk’s space company.
McCain has consistently supported SpaceX and done everything he could, it seems, to help the company win government space launch contracts. The federal government had granted space launch contracts to United Launch Alliance (ULA), a join venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. McCain accused ULA of “cronyism” for having won those contracts in the past while consistently supporting the government awarding space contracts to the company owned by his crony Elon Musk – SpaceX.
McCain supported the Congressional ban on the purchase or use of Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines, used by ULA, because it would be sending money to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s cronies. While the purchase of the rocket engines was approximately $88 million or 0.325 percent of goods imported from Russia, McCain never questioned or opposed the other 99.6 percent of about $27 billion in goods imported from Russia other than the rocket engines.
The ban on the Russian-made rocket engines, used by ULA, prohibited ULA from bidding on the contract for space launches, after SpaceX was cleared to bid on such contracts. This left SpaceX as the only other company able to bid and win those space launch contracts from the federal government. After fighting for SpaceX to bid on these contracts, and then shutting ULA out of the process by Congressional ban, McCain essentially was able to win SpaceX a monopoly over the space launch contracts likely at least until 2019. McCain declared it a “big win for competition” when SpaceX won the contracts, but yet in reality he had helped them become the new sole providers of the launch services instead of ULA. Elon Musk’s investments in donating to Sen. McCain and the McCain Institute paid off handsomely in the form of billions in space launch contracts.
While McCain has consistently sided with granting the launch contracts to SpaceX over ULA, an inspector general for the Department of Defense is looking into allegations that McCain has acted improperly in opposing the contracts with ULA. A former ULA executive accuses McCain of being entirely against contracts with the company and instead favoring Elon Musk’s competitor, SpaceX. The investigation was initiated upon request by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Sen. McCain has consistently supported legislation that SpaceX supported or lobbied for, and likewise SpaceX has supported legislation proposed by McCain. For instance, McCain’s S. 1376 bill titled National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, received the support of SpaceX, who paid the lobbying firm Squire, Patton and Boggs $90,000 to seek passage of the bill. Congress later passed a different version of legislation, S. 1356, that carried the same title. According to lobbying reports from the Center For Responsive Politics, In 2015, SpaceX sent $350,000 on lobbying, in part, for legislation that Sen. McCain voted for, including H.R. 1735, H.R. 2685, H.R. 719, S. 1356, And H.R. 2262. Sen. McCain has received a $5000 donation from SpaceX, while the McCain Institute has received donations from SpaceX and far-left political activist George Soros.
Sen. McCain has repeatedly praised Musk as a “top business leader” and invited him to speak at the Sedona Forum hosted by the McCain Institute. Additionally, McCain tweeted about how it was “good to visit with” Musk at his Senate office in Washington D.C. McCain has consistently supported and praised Musk and the three companies he has built with more than $4.9 billion in government subsidies and billions more in contracts awarded from state governments as well the federal government.
While there is no doubt Musk and McCain have been each quite loyal to the other, the result has been the propping up of a failed company at the expense of taxpayers. McCain has been the best senator the money of Musk’s companies can buy, but the multi-billion bill has been paid by the American people.