Members of the Congressional subcommittee that met Thursday to discuss the military's use of F-22 Raptor fighter jets, which were recently cleared for combat despite pilot safety concerns, have received more than $150,000 from the jet's maker since last year, according to a government watchdog group.
The report by the Washington, D.C.-based Project on Government Oversight details how Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor that produces the $79 billion jet fleet, has provided each member of the Tactical Air and Land forces subcommittee on average $6,130 in campaign contributions since last year, well above the average for the rest of Congress.
In Thursday's hearing, the subcommittee debated whether the jet was suitable to fly after problems with its oxygen system have caused pilots to pass out during flight and experience oxygen deprivation, or hypoxia. The hearing's witnesses, including Air Combat Command operations chief Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, insisted to the committee members that the $350 million jet was safe to fly.
"These are very subjective things," subcommittee's chairman and Maryland Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett said in regards the health problems pilots have reported. "If you think there's going to be a problem, the least little thing will … cause the pilot to believe he has exactly the symptoms of the thing that he dreaded, hypoxia."
The POGO report says Bartlett has received $8,000 in campaign contributions from Lockheed Martin just in the last 12 months.
"It was kind of a pro forma hearing. As someone who's looking for legitimate oversight of the F-22 it was disappointing," said Ben Freeman, national security investigator for POGO. "The result of this hearing was largely that the House bought into what the Air Force was saying about the F-22."
He says the only member present to ask substantive questions was California Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier who has received just $2,000 from Lockheed Martin this cycle—among the least in subcommittee, Freeman claims. "Even if it doesn't actually affect their actions, as a taxpayer looking at this hearing it sort of worries me that the people in charge of Lockheed generally or F-22 specifically have received significant money from" the company, says Freeman. "At the very least that would certainly be in the back of my head if a company had given me $10,000."
Currently, the nearly 200 F-22 Raptors in the military's fleet are clear to fly, under certain restrictions, such as altitude limits and remaining in close proximity to landing strips.
Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.