Mobilisa is one of a new breed of companies sustained by lawmakers handing them government contracts through line-item appropriations known as earmarks.
These companies make their sales pitch not to experts in places like the Pentagon but to lawmakers and their staff in the halls of Congress. The startups rely on dollars from taxpayers rather than from venture capitalists who demand a cut of profits. All the while, company executives usually give campaign donations to lawmakers.
Nelson Ludlow and his wife, Bonnie, have donated generously in the past five years, giving $11,500 to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and nearly $20,000 to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.
At the same time, the Ludlows have mastered the earmark game. Since 2003, Murray and Dicks have favored Mobilisa with at least nine earmarks worth $20.3 million.
Mobilisa had to split some of the earmark money with others and hasn't received all of it yet. But most of the company's $13 million to $14 million in revenues since 2003 have come from political pork, federal dollars for which Mobilisa didn't have to competitively bid. That puzzles competitors, who describe the company's technology as dated and overpriced.