Ban to Protect Against Pay-to-Play in Government Contracting Tested Like Never Before

shaking hands

Government contractors are prohibited from donating to candidates and super PACs. CLC filed two complaints this week after federal contractor Ashbritt Inc. gave $500,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action (complaint), and a contractor called Ring Power gave $50,000 to a super PAC supporting Florida U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott (complaint).  

The 75-year old contractor contribution ban protects against the appearance or reality that taxpayer-funded federal contracts are for sale, and also prevents officeholders from shaking down contractors for contributions. Last year, following a CLC complaint, the FEC fined Suffolk Construction Company for violating the contractor contribution ban by giving $200,000 to Priorities USA, a super PAC that supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential run.  

The ban on federal contractors making contributions in federal elections is clear. The “donate” pages on the websites for America First Action and New Republican PAC both state that the super PACs cannot legally accept money from contractors.  

It is not clear why Ashbritt, Inc. and Ring Power chose to violate this well-established law. As CLC Federal Reform Director Brendan Fischer told Roll Call

“It’s possible that both of these entities are ignorant of the federal contractor ban. But it’s also possible that they expect that they can make large contributions to fed super PACs and get away with it because the FEC has been so reticent to enforce the law.” 

It is usually a safe bet that the FEC will deadlock and fail to enforce the law — but the FEC has at least showed a willingness to enforce the contractor contribution ban in recent years. We’ll see if it takes action now.  

Interestingly, Ashbritt’s founder Randy Perkins told Roll Call that “he paid for the contribution from his personal money but it came from a loan distribution account that he maintains in the company name.” It is not clear why Perkins would maintain his “personal money” in the company’s name, but regardless of accounting mechanisms, Perkins’s statement appears to confirm that money from an Ashbritt account was contributed to a super PAC, which is illegal. 

CLC has long pointed to the problem of government contractors giving to political campaigns. In one high-profile example, CLC flagged one of the nation’s largest private prison groups — another government contractor — for $225,000 in contributions to a super PAC supporting Trump in 2016. That same company became the first beneficiary of a new private prison contract in the Trump Administration, receiving a $110 million federal contract to build a 1,000-bed immigrant detention center in Texas. That complaint has not been resolved. 

Corey handles media relations for the CLC voting rights and redistricting teams and creates online content. Follow @cgfromdc on Twitter