A new report by the Center for Public Integrity attempts to prove something that many people simply assume to be true: that the Bush administration has strongly favored cronies and campaign contributors in awarding reconstruction contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan. The CPI devoted six months to research and filed more than 70 Freedom of Information Act requests and appeals to get to the bottom of the story. The conclusion of the report, “Windfalls of War,” is that a clear quid pro quo exists between government procurement and campaign contributions to George W. Bush. Charles Lewis, the group’s executive director, released a statement arguing that the report reveals “a stench of political favoritism and cronyism surrounding the contracting process in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”
There’s just one problem: The CPI has no evidence to support its allegations.
The basic hypothesis of the report is that campaign contributions must have affected the allocation of reconstruction contracts; Halliburton’s and Bechtel’s large reconstruction contracts and generous support of politicians hint at such a finding. However, a closer look at the guts of the CPI report—the list of contract winners and the list of campaign contributions—exposes the flimsiness of this charge.
Consider the top 10 U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of dollars. The Washington Post story on the CPI report suggests a sinister connection:
The winners of the top 10 contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed about $1 million a year to national political parties, candidates and political action committees since 1990, according to the group, which studies the links between money and politics.
However, a glance at Table 1 shows that of the 10 largest contractors, only four firms made contributions greater than $250,000 over the entire 12-year span of the study. Another four firms among the top 10 averaged less than $1,000 per year in campaign contributions, a pittance by Beltway standards. The Post’s statement is technically accurate but conceals the fact that over 85 percent of the total figure comes from only three firms.
Table 1: Top 10 U.S. Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan
Company Size of reconstruction contracts (in dollars) Campaign contributions (in dollars) Kellogg Brown & Root (Halliburton) $2,329,040,891 $2,379,792 Bechtel Group Inc. 1,029,833,000 3,310,102 International American Products Inc. 526,805,651 2,500 Perini Corp. 525,000,000 119,000 Contrack International Inc. 500,000,000 2,000 Fluor Corp. 500,000,000 3,624,173 Washington Group International 500,000,000 1,185,232 Research Triangle Institute 466,070,508 1,950 Louis Berger Group 300,000,000 212,456 Creative Associates International Inc. 217,139,368 10,300
On the other hand, if you look at Table 2, top 10 campaign contributors, you find that only four of them received more than $100 million in contracts—and none of those top four donors are in the top 10 for contracts. General Electric, the biggest campaign contributor, has actually spent more in contributions than it has received in reconstruction contracts. Bechtel and Halliburton have given millions in political contributions, but the top 10 lists don’t support the notion that those campaign contributions were responsible for their winning bids.Table 2: Top 10 Campaign Contributors Among Contractors for Iraq and Afghanistan
Company Size of reconstruction contracts (in dollars) Campaign contributions (in dollars) General Electric Co. 5,927,870 8,843,884 Vinnell Corp. (Northrop Grumman) 48,074,442 8,517,247 BearingPoint Inc. 143,683,885 4,949,139 Science Applications International Corp. 38,000,000 4,704,909 Fluor Corp. 500,000,000 3,624,173 Bechtel Group Inc. 1,029,833,000 3,310,102 Kellogg Brown & Root (Halliburton) 2,329,040,891 2,379,792 American President Lines Ltd. 5,000,000 2,185,303 Dell Marketing LP 513,678 1,774,971 Parsons Corp. 89,000,000 1,403,508
The CPI report covers 70 firms that have received money for reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense. That’s a large enough sample to provide an imperfect test of the Center for Public Integrity’s underlying argument that contributions lead to contracts. If the corruption argument is true, then the size of campaign contributions should be strongly and positively correlated with the size of government contracts.
Running the numbers, the good news for the Center for Public Integrity is that there is indeed a positive correlation between contributions and contracts. The bad news is, the correlation coefficient turns out to be 0.192 and not statistically significant. To understand how weak those numbers are, go to this Web site and move your cursor to 0.2. An old joke among statistically minded social scientists is that “the world is correlated at 0.3.”
A conscious effort to reward Bush cronies with lucrative government contracts would require a lot more coordination than the CPI uncovers.