The end-of-year funding bill that Congress pushed to pass in late December contained more than $1.8 billion in earmarks for new military construction projects. Agencies and managers typically hire defense contractors to execute these projects, and a new OpenSecrets analysis found that the 45 senators who secured these earmarks received an average of 51% more cash from the defense sector than their colleagues during the 2022 election cycle.
Earmarks – congressional provisions in discretionary spending bills that direct funds to a specific project – are typically reserved for senators’ pet projects. These provisions were temporarily banned in 2011, but Congress restored earmarks in 2021 with rules to make the process more equitable and transparent, including posting earmark requests online and letters certifying lawmakers have no personal or financial stake in the project.
The $1.8 billion in military construction earmarks included in the omnibus bill passed Dec. 23 are separate from the record-setting $858 billion annual defense spending authorization bill passed on Dec. 15. The omnibus bill funds both the National Defense Authorization Act and the earmark provisions.
The omnibus spending bill includes earmarks for military construction in 32 states. Provisions range from child development centers to missile magazines and maintenance aircraft hangars.
The 45 senators whose requested and secured military construction earmarks made it into the omnibus bill reported receiving an average of $110,930 in political contributions from the defense sector during the 2022 election cycle as of post-general election filings. The remaining 55 senators received an average of $73,557 from the defense sector during the same period.
Twelve GOP senators with military construction earmarks in the omnibus bill reported receiving an average of $131,121 from the defense sector, nearly twice the $72,921 that Senate Republicans who do not have military construction earmarks in the omnibus package reported receiving on average.
The 33 Democratic senators with military construction earmarks reported receiving an average of $103,588 from the defense sector last election cycle compared to $75,015 for those who didn’t request military projects.
Of the 20 senators who received the most money from the defense sector during the last election cycle, 13 requested military construction earmarks that made it into the omnibus bill.
Sen. Jack Reed (D–R.I.), the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is a top recipient of contributions from the defense sector. Reed, who is not up for reelection until 2026, reported receiving nearly $289,050 from the defense sector during the 2022 election cycle.
The omnibus bill contains one military construction earmark from Reed – a $46 million project to construct a consolidated headquarters, medical and dining facility at the Quonset Air National Guard Base in his home state.
Retiring Sen. James Inhofe (R–Okla.), who served as ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the 117th Congress, was also a top recipient of defense sector contributions during the 2022 election cycle. Inhofe reported receiving $153,650 from individuals and PACs affiliated with the defense sector during the 2022 election cycle.
The Republican senator was such a staple on the committee that the Senate and House armed services committees named the annual defense authorization bill the “James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023” as a tribute to his legacy and leadership. He also secured a whopping $356.3 million in military construction earmarks for his home state of Oklahoma in the omnibus package.
Earmarks for military construction at Tinker Air Force Base related to Boeing-developed aircrafts account for $219 million of Inhofe’s total military construction earmark requests. Two earmarks totaling $204 million would go toward building new hangars for the KC-46A aircraft refueling and airlift system, and another $15 million would go toward planning and development of an operation center for the E-7 early warning and control plane.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) received more money from the defense sector than any other senator during the 2022 election cycle – although the $387,407 he received is a relatively small portion of the $41.1 million the majority leader’s campaign reported receiving as of post-general election filings. Schumer secured five military construction earmarks totaling $20.4 million alongside fellow New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is not up for reelection until 2024 and received just $1,940 from the defense sector during the same period.
The New York senators secured $3.1 million to design a physical fitness testing facility at Fort Drum, plus an additional $6.8 million earmarked to construct an access control point in the U.S. Army base. Other military construction earmarks include $3.6 million to design additions to the Lexington Armory’s National Guard Readiness Center, $2.8 million to design a combined operation and alert facility at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and $4.2 million for “unspecified minor construction” at the Air Force Research Laboratory.
“Senator Schumer is proud to have a long history delivering much needed federal funding for important projects, including at Fort Drum in the North Country and Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, which are critical to both the local and upstate economies and critical to national defense—keeping the bases, their jobs, and our troops in Upstate NY,” a spokesperson for Schumer told OpenSecrets in a written statement, adding, “That’s why he’s been able to help bring back more federal dollars to New York than the state sends to Washington, D.C. in the last two years.”
The spokesperson also highlighted key victories in bringing those federal tax dollars back to New York, including a provision in the spring omnibus package allocating $27 million to improve drinking water quality at Fort Drum.
Another top recipient of defense sector funds also secured military construction projects that would benefit military families. The biggest military construction earmarks secured by Democratic Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff totaled $26 million to design and build a child development center addition to Fort Gordon.
Defense sector donors also contributed heavily to Warnock, who raised more money than any other U.S. Senate candidate during his contentious 2022 reelection bid. Of the $150 million Warnock raised during the last election cycle, his campaign received $324,192 from the defense sector, while Ossoff — who is not up for reelection until 2026 — received just $1,498.
Warnock secured a total of $40.6 million in military construction projects, all but one with Ossoff. In addition to the child development center, Warnock also secured an additional $2.1 million to design a National Guard and Reserve Center Building at Fort Gordon, and the pair secured $1.1 million to plan an security forces squadron operations facility at Moody Air Force Base as well as $5 million to design an Army Reserve Center at Dobbins Army Reserve Base.
Jan. 5, 2022: The top recipients chart has been corrected to reflect that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) represents Alaska.