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Breaux-Lott lobby firm argues for Northrop Grumman

By Eric Rosenberg

April 4, 2008 at 8:24am

Northrop Grumman Corp. has hired a lobbying firm headed by two former U.S. senators to protect a lucrative military manufacturing project it won with Airbus for a new fleet of tanker planes.

The two former senators, John Breaux, D-La., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., will try to calm lawmakers who think Boeing Co. should have won the business. Their lobbying firm, the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group, was hired by Northrop Grumman last month.

The Air Force shocked the aerospace industry Feb. 29, by choosing a team of Airbus builder European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., and Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman to build the new mid-air refueling tankers.

The initial tanker program is valued at around $35 billion, but could grow to $100 billion if the Air Force places additional orders. Boeing has protested the contract award to the Government Accountability Office and is seeking to have it overturned.

Lott once served as Republican leader in the Senate. Breaux retired from the Senate in 2005 where he held leadership positions such as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and as chief deputy whip.

Lott won’t be able to lobby his former colleagues because Senate ethics rules bar that kind of work for one year after a senator retires; Lott left in December.

Breaux previously worked for Patton Boggs, lobbying on behalf of big names such as Shell Oil, Sallie Mae, Wal-Mart and Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Breaux-Lott Leadership Group is a family affair for both senators.

Lott joins his son Chet in the venture. The younger Lott has been a registered lobbyist for BellSouth, the National Association of Drug Courts and R.J. Corman Railroad Group.

Also joining the group is John Breaux Jr., formerly managing director for Public Strategies, a consulting firm based in Austin, Texas. He also worked as a director of congressional affairs at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association.

The elder Breaux said that his firm will lobby on a variety of Northrop Grumman programs, including Navy shipbuilding contracts. But “the main project now for the short-term is going to be the tanker project and making sure that the right message gets out.”

Northrop Grumman and Airbus have also put on the payroll 22 retired Air Force generals to help secure the lucrative project. The generals wrote Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week urging him to “stand up and help defend” the tanker award to the Airbus/Northrop Grumman team.The list of generals includes Michael Ryan, former Air Force chief of staff, and Charles Horner, commander of U.S. and allied aircraft during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Boeing has its own powerful allies. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, which oversees defense-related budgets, has threatened to hold up funds for the tanker following the Airbus victory.

Contact: eric@muckety.com

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