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FEC Complaint Could Limit Corporate Donations In Elections

by Alex Gauthier, published

fec complaint

The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) is the center of a new Federal Elections Commission complaint filed by Public Citizen in collaboration with Friends of the Earth, Green Peace, and Oil Change International on Tuesday. Tweet at @Public_Citizen: Tweet

The CLF received $2.5 million from Chevron Corp in October 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Likewise, FEC records show the Super PAC raised over $11 million from October 2011 to December 2012. The considerable sum of the donations, nearly 20 percent of the group’s funding, was also cited as a cause for the complaint. Tweet it: Tweet

The plaintiffs allege that the CLF knowingly violated an aspect of the Hatch Act concerning federal elections and government contractors.

Section 441c of title 2 in the U.S. Code prohibits any person or corporation that enters into a contract with the government from directly or indirectly " any contribution of money or other things of value… to any political party, committee, or candidate for public office or to any person for any political purpose or use."

Unaffected by the Citizens United ruling in 2010, this aspect of campaign finance precedent has endured since 1940.

Responding to inquiries from the press, Dan Conston, CLF’s communications director told the Hill, “[It’s] an obvious coordinated intimidation tactic from the left masquerading as just one more utterly baseless complaint.”

Likewise, Super PACs like CLF are well aware of the corporate limitation; even going so far as to highlight the prohibition on their donation page:

“Contributions from foreign nationals, Federal government contractors, national banks, or corporations organized by act of Congress are prohibited.”

A key facet of the complaint, likely to be tempered by the FEC, is whether or not government contracts awarded to subsidiaries disqualify the larger entity from donating in federal elections. Ask on Twitter: Tweet

Chevron subsidiaries have received billions in government contracts since 2000. One such contract was awarded to Chevron Energy Solutions, a Chevron subsidiary, in 2008. The Department of Energy outlined a minimum 5-year agreement for $5 billion to the corporation that would, in turn, "reduce energy and water consumption and increase the use of renewable energy at agency facilities."

Although a FEC decision is unlikely to occur with any expediency, a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could dramatically reshape corporate influence in campaigns. Other large conglomerates like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics -- who contract regularly with the government and are no strangers to political contributions -- may have to rethink their political strategy.

A vacancy still remains on the Federal Elections Commission following Cynthia Bauerly's resignation in February. With an understaffed and often gridlocked commission, Public Citizen's complaint may fall on deaf ears.

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