The defense company EADS North America is locked in a bitter feud with the Boeing Co. over who will build the next fleet of aerial tankers for the Pentagon.
Boeing spokesman Dan Beck said his company also believed it needed to continue advertising because “we want to be sure we are telling our story.”
Beck said Boeing has not advertised on social media sites but, like EADS, maintains its own website for the tanker, which he said has been effective in reaching a broad audience.
“You’d be surprised. We get a lot of hits from across the country,” he said.
A number of Facebook pages have been created over the years by proponents of both sides in the tanker dispute. One page, “Support the Air Force Tanker Decision,” has 734 members and urged people to call their lawmakers to back a 2008 decision by the Pentagon selecting the tanker bid by Northrop Grumman Corp. and EADS. Another page, “America for an American Refueling Tanker,” was critical of that decision, which the Pentagon revoked after Boeing filed an appeal.
In recent advertising volleys, the companies have traded charges over the level of government subsidies that they have received. Both cite rulings by the World Trade Organization that EADS received subsidies from European governments and Boeing benefited from U.S. government aid, although at lower amounts than EADS.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Boeing supporter, has introduced legislation requiring defense officials to take into consideration what she called unfair advantages that EADS enjoys from illegal subsidies.
The Washington Democrat has also called into question the integrity of the bidding process because of a mix-up last fall when the Pentagon mistakenly sent information to the two companies that included details about the opposing bids. Pentagon officials determined that an EADS official had the Boeing file open for three minutes while Boeing officials never opened the EADS data.
Both companies maintain substantial lobbying operations, although Boeing outspent EADS last year $17.9 million to $3 million. Some of EADS’ outside firms are more tailored to reaching Republican lawmakers, particularly Southern ones who are largely backing the company’s plan. Boeing has retained prominent Democratic-leaning firms that may have more influence with the Obama administration.
EADS has hired GOP lobbying firm Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock and the Livingston Group, headed by ex-Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.). Virginia Hume, a former press secretary at the Republican National Committee who now works for Quinn Gillespie & Associates, is helping with social media.
Boeing has tapped politically connected firms, including the Podesta Group, founded by Democrat Tony Podesta, and the Gephardt Group, headed by former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt (Mo.). Last year, Boeing’s political action committee gave $2.8 million in contributions to federal candidates and parties, more than half of it to Democrats. EADS’ PAC made $292,00 in contributions, just more than half to Democrats.
Some on Capitol Hill are not sure whether the latest advertising campaign will make a difference.
Rep. Norm Dicks, ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, has long been one of the most vocal lawmakers advocating on behalf of Boeing, which has major operations in the Seattle area.
But the Washington Democrat’s spokesman, George Behan, said that while he has been aware of the advertising blitz, “there isn’t much we can do.”
“It is difficult for us to take direct action while the procurement is under way,” Behan said.