From The Hill
A super-PAC backing Hillary Clinton has accepted $200,000 in donations from a company holding multiple contracts with the federal government — despite a ban on such contributions.
According to a review of contributions by The Hill, Boston-based Suffolk Construction made two contributions of $100,000 to Priorities USA, which is backing the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
At the time it made the contributions, Suffolk held multiple contracts worth $976,560 with the Department of Defense for maintenance and construction projects at a Naval base in Newport, R.I., and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., according to the government website USASpending.gov.
Suffolk — which, by Forbes’s estimate, brings in some $2 billion in revenue annually — also donated $10,000 in 2015 to Right to Rise, a super-PAC that supported Republican Jeb Bush’s now-defunct presidential bid.
The donations from Suffolk highlight how a 70-year-old campaign finance law meant to prevent pay-to-play deals between public officials and companies making money from the government is often ignored by those making the donations and those on the receiving end.
The two contributions, one made in July and one in December, came during Clinton’s presidential primary battle with Bernie Sanders, who rose to prominence partly because he railed against super-PACs and the wealthy donors who fund them.
A review of campaign finance records by The Hill shows that the practice of skirting or openly flouting the contractor ban has become widespread in both congressional and presidential politics.
There are multiple reasons why the law is ignored.
Some lawyers believe the prohibition on a contractor giving to a super-PAC is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has never issued a ruling on the specific matter.
Perhaps more importantly, donors face little chance of being penalized by a Federal Election Commission (FEC) that is so divided between its Republican and Democratic members it has proved incapable of deciding even the most basic questions, such as whether to investigate complaints.
Priorities USA stipulates on its website that donors can’t be federal contractors. Yet a spokesman for the super-PAC declined to comment in response to a question about whether the donations from Suffolk would be returned.
Clinton’s campaign also declined to comment.
“The increasing trend of contractors violating the law comes as no surprise,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, an advocacy group that was involved in a high-profile case regarding the ban.
In addition to the donations to Priorities USA, The Hill found 14 federal contractors that had contributed a total of $173,250 to Right to Rise. Two had also given to Conservative Solutions PAC, a group that supported Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) bid for president.
One contractor, a Florida utility named Gulf Power Co., gave $44,000 to Right to Rise in March 2015. At the time, the company held more than $1 million in contracts with the Department of Defense.
The Hill asked Gulf Power whether the company was aware it was in violation of the ban and if it believed there was a conflict of interest in politicians benefiting from donations from federal contractors.
Jeff Rogers, a spokesman for the company, responded, “We believe Gulf Power’s right to make the contribution in question is constitutionally protected.”
Suffolk Construction, which since 2008 has received $169.7 million in federal contracts, according to USASpending.gov, declined multiple requests for comment.
John Fish, the company’s CEO, has been a prolific donor to both parties over the years, though FEC records show he favors Democrats by a wide margin. He’s contributed thousands to President Obama’s White House bids and gave $500 to his 2004 Senate campaign.
Fish’s office did not return a request for comment.
The company itself has mainly funneled money to Republicans. In 2012 it gave $510,000 to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC supporting GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and $50,000 to another group backing then-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).
Campaign finance lawyers say federal contractors that donate to super-PACs are taking a calculated risk that the politically deadlocked FEC will never take action against them.
History suggests they’re correct.
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