Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Hillary Clinton, accepted $200,000 in contributions from a government contractor in violation of federal law, according to the Campaign Legal Center.
While Priorities USA – following press coverage of the illegal contribution – returned the money to Suffolk Construction Co., it still failed to do so within 30 days of learning of the possible violation, as the law requires, the nonprofit alleged.
The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 recently filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission demanding the agency investigate and impose appropriate sanctions on both Priorities USA and Suffolk Construction Co.
“If it wasn’t for news reports highlighting these violations of the law, we’d never know if Priorities USA Action would have still refunded those contributions,” said Paul S. Ryan, deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. “Super PACs and their deep-pocketed donors should not be allowed to skirt and violate the laws we have in place to protect the integrity of our democracy. This is exactly why Americans don’t have confidence in our political process, and why there is overwhelming support for reforming our campaign finance system, which includes a strong, effective FEC that enforces the law.”
“Priorities USA Action had a duty at the time it accepted two illegal contributions from Suffolk Construction Company in 2015 to determine if it could accept these contributions and the Super PAC apparently failed to perform that duty,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer. The FEC needs to investigate this and also needs to investigate whether the Super PAC solicited these government contractor contributions in violation of the law. The fact that Priorities USA is now returning the contributions, after questions about them had been raised in published reports does not cure any violations that occurred.”
Suffolk Construction is a major federal contractor, having received $168.8 million in contracts since 2008, and its donations put it among Priorities USA’s top donors in 2015. The law is clear that federal contractors are prohibited from making contributions to a political committee while negotiating or performing a federal contract, and a political committee is similarly prohibited from soliciting and receiving contributions from a federal contractor.
The law also makes clear that political committees must examine the legality of contributions when they are received — and when later faced with new evidence that a contribution came from a prohibited source like a federal contractor, must refund the contribution within 30 days.
Priorities USA knew about the company’s status as a contractor at least as early as April 2016, when the Center for Public Integrity asked the super PAC for comment – and then published a story – about Priorities USA receiving contributions from the contractor. Yet the contributions were not returned until July, following a Hill story raising the same issue but which attracted wider attention.
“Priorities USA could have easily determined from the outset that Suffolk Construction Company was a major federal contractor, and certainly has known since April, when reporters first raised the issue,” said Brendan Fischer, associate counsel with the Campaign Legal Center. “Yet, the super PAC didn’t return the contribution when they learned it was illegal – they only did so when it became politically inconvenient.”