Government contractors are prohibited from making political contributions – a long-standing ban put in place to prevent influence-peddling and corruption in the contracting process. Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed six complaints alleging that active federal contractors violated the ban by giving money to super political action committees (PACs.)
The contractor contribution ban protects against a pay-to-play system in which wealthy special interests are rewarded for their political contributions with lucrative government contracts. This, in turn, helps prevents the reality or appearance that taxpayer-funded contracts are for sale.
CLC identified six federal contractors that made illegal contributions to super PACs:
- Marathon Petroleum Company gave $500,000 each to the conservative super PACs Congressional Leadership Fund and Senate Leadership Fund while holding a nearly $2 million contract with the Department of Defense.
- Amedisys, Inc. (a nursing home company that paid a $150 million settlement in 2014 for Medicare fraud) gave $25,000 to Senate Leadership Fund while under several active federal government contracts.
- Kirby-Smith Machinery, Inc. (a heavy equipment distribution company) gave $10,000 to Restore Oklahoma, a new super PAC supporting Republican Stephanie Bice in the 5th District congressional race, while under multiple contracts with the Department of Defense.
- Excel Dryer, Inc., a hand dryer producer, gave $10,000 to American Working Families, a Democratic super PAC running ads to support Rep. Richard Neal in Massachusetts’ 1st District congressional race, after the company publicly touted Rep. Neal’s support earlier this year, and while under contract with the General Services Administration (GSA).
- DTE Energy, a Detroit-based diversified energy company, gave $15,000 to American Working Families while under contract with the GSA, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and Department of Veterans Affairs.
- TonerQuest, a New York-based office supply company, gave $25,000 to the Trump-aligned super PAC American First Action last November while under contract with the GSA.
It is possible that the contractors made the illegal contributions expecting to get away with violating the ban, given the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) reticence to uphold the law. But the commission has shown a willingness to enforce the ban in recent years.
CLC has long tracked this concerning trend and has filed a number of successful complaints that have resulted in penalties from the FEC. For example, earlier this year, the FEC fined Alpha Marine Services $17,000 for contributing to Congressional Leadership Fund in response to a CLC complaint, even after the super PAC returned the contractor’s $100,000 illegal contribution.
Similarly, the FEC fined federal contractor Ring Power Corporation $9,500 last year for giving to a super PAC supporting Sen. Rick Scott after CLC filed a complaint with the commission.
And in 2016, in response to a complaint from CLC, the FEC fined contractor Suffolk Construction Company $34,000 for illegally contributing $200,000 to the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The FEC is responsible for enforcing the laws that govern the U.S. campaign finance system, and it must act to enforce the ban to discourage future violations.