By Sally Marsh, a Summer 2022 CLC intern
Federal campaign finance law contains a commonsense prohibition: companies cannot contribute to any political committee — including candidates’ campaigns, PACs or super PACs — while they are negotiating or performing a contract with the federal government.
The federal contractor contribution ban is an essential protection against corruption in our political system and pay-to-play in the contracting process.
The federal government contracts with companies to provide everything from military equipment to office space, spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in the process. The federal contractor contribution ban forecloses the opportunity for quid pro quo agreements, in which contractors effectively trade political donations for a share of those taxpayer dollars.
By prohibiting this kind of contribution, federal law safeguards elections against corruption and the appearance of corruption, bolstering the public’s confidence that elected officials will make contracting decisions without the personal financial incentive of obtaining campaign cash for their reelection efforts.
That’s why CLC has filed a complaint urging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate and enforce the law with respect to an apparent violation of the federal contractor contribution ban by Ohio Ordnance Works, a gun manufacturer that made a $100,000 contribution to Club for Growth Action, a super PAC, while actively performing on multiple federal contracts.
Ohio Ordnance Works has been awarded more than $7.9 million in contracts to supply guns and gun accessories to the federal government.
With a self-described “long history” of building firearms and machine guns, some of their “notable customers” include the United States Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Air Force, the United States Army, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.
Ohio Ordnance Works had several open contracts with federal agencies when it made its $100,000 contribution to Club for Growth Action in February 2022, a blatant violation of the law.
Club for Growth Action is a prominent and powerful super PAC connected to the 501(c)(4) organization Club for Growth. Club for Growth, which raised $55 million during the 2020 election cycle, supports conservative Republican candidates.
According to an analysis from The Guardian, Club for Growth spent approximately $20 million during the 2018 and 2020 election cycles in support of lawmakers who sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
This is the third such illegal contribution by an arms manufacturer that CLC has identified in the past two years: In December 2020, Sig Sauer gave $100,000 to the Gun Owners Action Fund, a super PAC that supports U.S. Senate candidates committed to opposing gun control legislation.
The same super PAC also received another $100,000 in January 2021 from Daniel Defense, the gunmaker recently in the national spotlight for manufacturing the assault rifle used in the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting.
Both prior CLC complaints remain pending with the FEC. Meanwhile, reporting has confirmed that the super PAC returned both contributions to the respective companies, and the Sig Sauer contribution was returned following CLC’s complaint.
While gunmakers are otherwise permitted to support candidates who will advance their financial interests (via super PAC contributions), they lose that ability when they contract with the federal government.
Public officials should make decisions on how to spend our tax dollars based on what is best for the American people, not based on which companies have donated to their reelection campaign.
CLC’s complaint against Ohio Ordnance Works highlights the importance of enforcing the law to ensure that taxpayer-funded contracts are not "for sale” to the highest-bidding political contributor.