"Mr. Hunter is a supporter of the kind of work we do, which is mostly missile defense," said Larry Fulton, executive vice president of Mevatech, a Huntsville, Ala.-based engineering company whose top executives gave to the committee to re-elect Hunter. "It's one of Mr. Hunter's areas of excellence."
Hunter, who was in Alaska this week where land has been set aside for missile defense, was not available for comment but has made defense issues a top priority throughout his career as a representative from a district that includes the Naval Air Facility El Centro, previously serving on the committee for military procurement.
"We have the military technology to do many things — but the only thing we don't have is a way to protect ourselves," said Hunter spokesman Michael Harrison. "It's a big hole in our national security."
But groups such as the California Peace Action Network, which lobby against arms procurement, have labeled congressmen who take contributions from the defense industry as "parasites."
"Someone like Hunter is a lost cause to us," said Nathan Britton, assistant political director for the group in Southern California. "To what extent is he serving his constituents when he is receiving all of this money from defense companies?"
Research and development does play a significant role at the Naval Air Facility El Centro, where flights and testing are done year-round because of the clear conditions offered by the surrounding desert. The base, which employs some 500 people, has survived a third round of military base closures nationwide mostly due to lobbying by Hunter, said Harrison.
"(NAF El Centro) plays an important role in national security, mostly through training and bombing missions," said Harrison of the base, which brings $15 million into the Valley annually. "The Imperial Valley is in favor of the military."
Despite the increase in defense donations to Hunter's campaign, defense contracts awarded to the 52nd District over the past four years have declined. According to statistics from the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute in New York, federal prime contracts awarded to companies in the district from the Department of Defense dropped from $50 million in 1998 to around $34 million in 2000, a decrease of 32 percent.
Contracts awarded to Huntsville, Ala., home to numerous research and development firms that have contributed to Hunter, totaled $2.2 billion in 2000, nearly seven times the amount awarded to the 52nd District of California.
"The crime isn't in giving money," said Michael Benoit, a Libertarian candidate who ran against Hunter in the 2000 election. "The crime comes if it is buying them something."
Defense companies claim that it isn't the case.
"It's not a company policy — these are all individual contributions," said Fulton, who said the practice of donating to members of Congress who "support our programs" is not uncommon throughout Huntsville, where a large number of research and development firms are based. Others argue that the interests of the nation are the same as those of the 52nd District.
"Hunter is doing a good job," said Bruce Young, chairman of the committee to re-elect Duncan Hunter. "And he doesn't just do it for his constituents, he does it for the entire country."