Upon his return, he sought advice from the Senate's Ethics Committee on how to properly handle his return. In a letter from the committee's chief counsel, he was advised that "no Senate rules would prohibit you from having official contact with GE." But the letter also urged him to "avoid even the appearance of impropriety."
"I have completely followed their guidance," Hughes told ABC News. "To avoid even the appearance of impropriety, I can further state that I have not allowed myself to be lobbied by any GE or GE-hired lobbyists, instead directing any inquiries or lobbying to the appropriate staff for Senator Hutchison. Upon my hiring, I immediately divested myself of any GE-related financial assets. In addition, I have not advised Senator Hutchison on GE matters, including the Joint Strike Fighter second engine."
Miller said there is always a concern when a company's lobbyists move into the public sector and are in a position to handle important legislative issues for their former employer. It was that exact concern that led President Obama to prohibit lobbyists from taking administration posts that allow them to work on the very issues they had previously lobbied.
Even without help from former members of its lobbying team, General Electric remains committed to fighting for the engine contract -- and few issues have more dominated the company's energies in Washington. GE has argued that the forces aligned against it -- led by rival contractor Pratt and Whitney -- are trying to preserve a monopoly that will wind up costing the American public more money in the long run. That argument, which is supported by an analysis by the Government Accountability Office, has become the backbone of both the company's lobbying effort and a glossy advertising campaign.
Kennedy, the company spokesman, in a recent email to ABC News said "a competing [Joint Strike Fighter] engine will more than pay for itself over time."
"We believe we can reduce this $100 billion buy by $20 billion over the next 30 years," he said in an earlier interview.
Kennedy also said that, while GE's critics have accused the company of capitalizing on the presence of an aviation facility just a few miles from the district of House Speaker John Boehner, parochial interests are also driving GE's opponents. He pointed to a recent report in the Palm Beach Post, where U.S. Rep Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican, boasted that the defeat of GE's alternate engine could bring back some 3,000 Pratt & Whitney jobs that have been lost in Palm Beach County over the past decade.
"I'm going to work very hard to try to bring those jobs back to Palm Beach County," he told the paper. "I'm not shying away from the fact that my allegiance to Pratt is just like [Boehner's] allegiance to GE."
The fate of the engine appears to be all but sealed. The House budget sliced funding, and senators working on the budget have likewise indicated that funding would not appear in their finished bill either. President Obama has maintained that he will veto any spending bill that includes money for the engine. Still, Kennedy, like Immelt, has remained defiant.
"It's not over," he told Reuters in an interview last week. "This is part of the budget process, but that process and the overall fate of the [engine] is just not over."