Over the weekend, the Star reported on local engineering firm Black & Veatch's recent contract to keep electricity pumping in southern Afghanistan. The company landed the $266 million job without having to bid for it, and despite poor government ratings on previous projects, it worked in the war zone.
The Star didn't wade into what role, if any, political contributions played in the government's generosity toward the Overland Park-based firm. Perhaps that's fair. Nowadays, most large companies are politically active, especially if they plan on grazing in Old Man Government's field. But it's still worth looking at who in Washington receives Black & Veatch's checks.
The company's Political Action Committee has been around for years, raising and then donating mostly small wads of cash to various politicians and causes, usually in Missouri and Kansas.
Since the start of the war Afghanistan, the PAC has doled out about $330,000, according to campaign finance records -- a modest amount by government-contractor standards. (Halliburton's PAC spent almost that much last election cycle alone.)
At no time was Black & Veatch's PAC busier than during the 2008 election, when hundreds of the firm's employees wrote checks ranging from $200 to $4,000, flooding the committee with $213,000. The committee spent most of it, kicking donations to several members of Congress.
Again, there's no evidence that the company's generosity played any role in the work it landed in Afghanistan. USAID, which gave the company the contracts in question, is a government agency with what seems like limited congressional oversight.
But it is interesting to watch how the money flows. No one has benefited more from Black & Veatch's political involvement than former Sen. Kit Bond who, between his campaign committees and his own PAC, received $35,000 from the start of the war in Afghanistan until his recent retirement.
Bond happened to serve on the powerful appropriations committee's powerful defense subcommittee, which was responsible for funding USAID. And he always seemed in favor of the agency getting more money to spend on projects like the ones Black & Veatch has worked on.
Does $35,000 over several years from one hometown firm inspire such a stance? Of course not. But it doesn't hurt, either.