WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Election Commission should take enforcement action against Chevron for its $2.5 million contribution to a Republican-tied super PAC because it violated a prohibition against political donations by federal contractors, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth U.S., Greenpeace and Oil Change International said in a complaint sent today to the FEC.
The FEC also should find the super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, in violation of the law for taking the money, because the people running the group should have known the contributions were illegal, the complaint said.
In October, Chevron gave $2.5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC reportedly tied to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the congressional campaign committee of the Republican Party. Government contractors such as Chevron are strictly prohibited by federal law from making “any … contribution to any political party, committee or candidate for public office or to any person for any political purpose or use.”
The ban, also known as the “pay-to-play” prohibition, was passed by Congress in 1940 to curb corruption and the appearance of corruption due to the unique circumstances of private businesses bidding for lucrative government contracts. Such laws have been repeatedly upheld by the courts, starting with the 1995 Blount v. Securities and Exchange Commission decision and more recently in the Green Party of Connecticut v. Garfield decision in 2010 and the Wagner v. FECdecision last year.
“The ‘pay-to play’ prohibition exists because of a long and seedy record of companies attempting to buy lucrative government business by filling the campaign coffers of politicians,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “The same process also protects against officials extorting money from companies wishing to do business with the government.”
Chevron’s contribution accounted for about 22 percent of the super PAC’s $11.3 million in receipts for the 2012 elections. The group spent $9.4 million in the elections, all of it on ads attacking 14 Democratic House of Representatives candidates.
“The notorious Citizens United v. FEC decision may, for the time being, allow corporations to make unlimited expenditures in our elections,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., “but that decision did not change the law banning government contractors from trying to curry favor through campaign contributions.”
Also troubling is that most super PACs are not independent; instead, they are tied closely to a single candidate or a political party, Holman said. In fact, 52 percent of the super PACs active in the 2012 elections were devoted to aiding a single candidate, according to a report Public Citizen released today, “Super Connected.” An additional six super PACs were closely allied with one of the national political party committees. The Congressional Leadership Fund is one of those.
“Chevron’s multimillion dollar contribution to the super PAC run on behalf of the National Republican Congressional Committee and House Speaker John Boehner is classic pay-to-play abuse at its worst,” said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International. “That money buys them government contracts and House leadership that reliably backs Big Oil’s agenda including preserving subsidies and gutting regulations. It’s a bargain for Chevron, and the American people have to pay.”
“People around the world have stood up to Chevron for contaminating our communities,” said Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace. “Now, together, we are standing up to the company’s brazen attempt to pollute our democracy with its dirty money.”
Federal law also prohibits political organizations and parties from soliciting donations from federal contractors. Public Citizen urges the FEC to look into the Congressional Leadership Fund’s role in the $2.5 million donation.
“By taking a strong stand against Chevron’s actions, the FEC would clearly signal to federal contractors and political organizations that trading cash for favors will not be tolerated,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Such action is crucial to protect democracy from the corrupting influence of corporate money.”
Public Citizen and allied groups are organizing a petition campaign to allow citizens to voice their opposition to Chevron’s actions and the flood of corporate money in politics. Read the petition here.
The complaint is available at www.citizen.org/chevron-fec-complaint-super-connected-report-update.
To read the report, visit www.citizen.org/documents/super-connected-march-2013-update-candidate-super-pacs-not-independent-report.pdf.