Jill Replogle | Fronteras
Since 2005, the federal government has awarded at least $12 billion in contracts for drones and drone supplies and maintenance. That includes at least $270 million for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s drone program.
SAN DIEGO — You’ve probably heard of the Congressional Black Caucus, or perhaps the Progressive Caucus. But what about the drone caucus? Officially, it’s the Unmanned Systems Caucus.
Primarily, the caucus advocates for drones — those pilot-less planes infamous for their role targeting insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re used as a spy tool in Iran, a drug-fighting tool in Mexico and an anti-smuggling tool along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Many of the most successful drone manufacturers are based in Southern California and elsewhere around the southwest.
The drone caucus — like the technology it promotes — is becoming increasingly important in the nation’s capitol as the government looks to unmanned vehicles to help save money on defense, better patrol the country’s borders and provide a new tool to U.S. law enforcement agencies and civilians.
“It’s definitely a powerful caucus,” said Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst with First Street Research Group, a D.C.-based company that analyzes lobbying data.
“It’s probably up there in the more powerful caucuses that sort of is not talked about.” And, he says, caucus members are well placed to influence government spending and regulations.
Lee Fang | Republic Report
Armed Services Committee Chairman Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA) is best known today as the weapon industry’s go-to lawmaker for expanding the use of domestic drones in America. But in 1998, the congressman accepted a discounted mortgage from subprime mortgage giant Countrywide as part of the company’s wide-ranging efforts to bribe public officials. (No one has been charged with bribery, but the loans were clearly doled out “in order to influence the judgment or conduct.”) Though McKeon told the Los Angeles Times this year that he had no idea that his Countrywide loan was “VIP,” e-mails released today by the Oversight Committee show that that McKeon family were well aware of their preferential treatment.
The Oversight Committee report reveals e-mails and letters from Countrywide to McKeon. Previously released e-mails show that a Countrywide employee instructed loan officers to give McKeon a special deal, noting, “Per [Countrywide CEO] Angelo [Mozilo] — take off 1 point, no garbage fees, approve the loan and make it a no doc.” But the new e-mails show even more evidence that McKeon was aware of, and accepted an unethical gift from a company seeking influence in government.
When the news broke earlier this year that McKeon had participated in the VIP Countrywide program — which has ensnared former Clinton and Bush administration officials, as well as Senators Chris Dodd, Kent Conrad, and others with cut-rate mortgages, discounted interest rates, and “no doc” loans — McKeon aggressively denied any knowledge of a special deal:
McKeon’s office said McKeon had never met or spoken to Mozilo and was “shocked and angry to hear this, as he had no knowledge of the Friends of Angelo designation.” In an interview in his Capitol Hill office last month, McKeon said he had paid the “garbage fees” and did not get a point off on the loan.
The evidence, however, shows that McKeon shouldn’t be surprised about the special nature of the Countrywide refinance he received in 1998.