Rep. Norm Dicks’ (D-Wash.) expected promotion to the top of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense undoubtedly will boost the stock of his small downtown network of close associates and former staffers who represent defense industry interests.
Although the panel’s chairmanship officially remains vacant, Dicks is the consensus pick to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), whose funeral was held last week in his hometown of Johnstown, Pa. An iconic Appropriations cardinal, Murtha’s tenure in recent years was marked by his controversial ties to a vast cadre of defense lobbyists, whose campaign contributions to Murtha were well-chronicled by Roll Call and elsewhere.
Lobbying sources say Dicks’ upcoming tenure on the powerful subcommittee — which writes checks for aircraft, weapons systems and other big-ticket military equipment — will undoubtedly move his state’s military interests to the front and center at the panel. Aerospace giant Boeing Co. has a large facility in Seattle, while the Department of Defense has major Washington state installations at Fort Lewis and McChord airfield.
Sources also say Dicks’ downtown bench, while narrower than Murtha’s, is deep and includes veteran K Street hands such as Denny Miller, a one-time chief of staff for the late Sen. Scoop Jackson (D-Wash.), and Steve McBee, president of McBee Strategic Consulting.
“Over the years, he’s built a network with a little group of people he can trust,” said a Democratic lobbyist. “There aren’t a lot of former Norm Dicks staffers on K Street, but Norm has an excellent network, not just with K Street but with think tanks and other policy groups.”
Dicks spokesman George Behan added that “Norm’s network is pretty broad both in the Pentagon and in industry.” But a defense lobbyist said just a handful of K Street interests are best positioned to capitalize on Dicks’ likely ascension.
“There are three winners: Boeing, Miller and McBee,” said the defense source, speaking on condition of anonymity. Dicks, for example, has been a key ally of Boeing in its high-stakes battle against Northrop Grumman for a $35 billion Defense Department contract to build an in-air refueling tanker.
The defense lobbyist also said Dicks taking over the chairmanship could reignite a dormant rivalry between Miller and McBee — a rivalry that began when McBee, formerly a lobbyist at Miller’s firm, set out on his own in 2002.
Miller and McBee declined to comment for this story, but sources familiar with their firms say they have distinct business models.
Miller’s client roster includes many prominent defense firms, according to lobbying records filed with the Secretary of the Senate. In 2009, Miller’s firm posted $4.74 million in Lobbying Disclosure Act revenue from such defense clients as Boeing, Raytheon Co., General Atomics, General Dynamics Corp. and ITT Corp.
McBee, too, represents top defense firms including Boeing, General Dynamics and Honeywell International Inc., but his firm has veered more into the energy, transportation and financial services sectors. Rick Desimone, a McBee Strategic executive, confirmed that defense-related LDA revenues for his firm represented 7 percent of the lobbying shop’s overall take last year.
In addition to his close-knit K Street network, Dicks also has strong ties with the legions of top military brass who have retired to the Pacific Northwest. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili, a Dicks constituent, is in regular contact with the lawmaker.
In a statement, Shalikashvili, who served as chairman during the Clinton administration, called Dicks “a great American.”
“Norm has continually proven himself to be a dedicated and principled public servant as well as a strong voice for America’s national security interests,” the statement read. “He is well versed in the many security challenges that face us and works tirelessly to ensure that we handle them both appropriately and effectively. I’ve always considered him one of the strongest pro-defense voices in the House of Representatives.”
Shalikashvili is also a board member of the National Bureau of Asian Research, a Seattle-based think tank that “conducts advanced independent research on strategic, political, economic, globalization, health, and energy issues affecting U.S. relations with Asia,” according to the organization’s Web site.
In a statement, National Bureau of Asian Research President Richard Ellings called Dicks “a stalwart of Washington State.”
“He has consistently looked after what is right for the country, especially in the area of national security,” Ellings said. “His commitment to bipartisanship is as strong as his passion for national security.”