Senator McCain & SpaceX – The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

John McCain and Elon Musk
John McCain and Elon Musk

As the Senate considers the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense policy bill, Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain is wasting no time once going to bat for his good friend and billionaire businessman Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX.  In a speech to the Bipartisan Policy Center on May 19, McCain lauded Musk’s achievements and slammed both SpaceX’s competitors and his fellow members of Congress, accusing them of lining “the pockets of Vladimir Putin’s cronies.”

The legislative fight in question is whether Congress listens to its top military leaders who have asked for authorization to purchase additional RD-180 Russian rocket engines necessary to power America’s Atlas V rocket system, or whether Congress essentially creates a new monopoly for Elon Musk’s SpaceX by blocking the sales of the engines.
In his remarks, McCain even went so far as to invoke the word “corruption” in describing the relationship that he sees between Musk’s competitors, its lobbyists, the Pentagon and his colleagues in Congress.  But rather simply being upfront about his support for his friend Elon Musk, McCain has cloaked his position under the veil of national security claiming the U.S. is “enriching” the Putin regime in Russia and saying that America should not be relying on “these thugs for our military’s access to space.”
McCain’s hyperbole is remarkable when one considers the lobbyists that Musk and SpaceX have hired to help them with this fight.  Over the last several years, Musk has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to McCain’s former Republican colleagues, Senators Trent Lott and Don Nickles, to lobby on SpaceX’s behalf.  Now that sort of influence peddling might seem normal to those who have grown used to the way Washington works except when you consider that Musk’s lobbyists have also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the same “Russian thugs” that Senator McCain is invoking today.  As Bloomberg News reported last year:
·         While Russia may be angry about international sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, Beltway lawyers are mopping up and big names in lobbying are piling in. Consider that last year, the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott raked in $300,000 from Kremlin-controlled OAO Gazprombank, which was a target of sanctions. The Gazprombank billings for Lott’s firm are about double what Lott made in annual salary during any of his 18 years in the Senate.  Other high-profile ex-senators like John Breaux of Louisiana and Don Nickles of Oklahoma are also getting in on the Russian action, as is Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi.
You read that right – Musk’s SpaceX lobbyists have also lobbied extensively on behalf of Putin’s “cronies” at Russia’s Kremlin-controlled oil company.  Incidentally, America imports more than $20 billion in Russian oil each year which constitutes more than 65 percent of our overall annual imports from Russia.  In contrast, rocket engines constitute just 0.3 percent of that overall figure, yet not surprisingly, McCain isn’t calling for the ban on Russian oil imports or even the tens of millions of dollars in arms and ammunition the U.S. imports each year from Russia either.
And it’s not just the Russian oil industry, in 2014 it was revealed that Senator Lott was also lobbying for Gazprombank GPB (OJSC), a Russian bank targeted with sanctions by President Obama over the Ukraine crisis.  As the Center for Public Integrity wrote at the time, “U.S. sanctions against Russia are becoming a boon for Washington’s lobbyists.”
The hypocrisy doesn’t end there though – it extends to Senator McCain as well.  While McCain is slamming his colleagues, the Pentagon and the defense industry for “corruption” he failed to mention the thousands of dollars in campaign contributions that he’s received from Elon Musk’s companies.  In fact, just days before McCain went to the Senate floor in December to attack Senator Shelby for reversing his decision on the RD-180, SpaceX sent McCain’s re-election campaign a $5,000 contribution on December 15th.  Purely a coincidence I’m sure.
Of course, Musk’s largesse extends beyond his support for McCain’s re-election as SpaceX as also contributed thousands of dollars to the “McCain Institute for International Leadership.”
Just like Saudia Arabia, both Elon Musk and the Russian government know how to work the halls of Congress and Musk knows a sure way to get the attention of the senior Senator from Arizona.