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Contractors challenge prohibition against campaign contributions

Oct. 20, 2011 - 05:18PM   |  
By SARAH CHACKO   |   Comments
A provision in the federal election campaign law regarding constitutionality cases requires the district judge to certify the relevant facts and send the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. seen above. (dcd.uscourts.gov)

The federal law that prohibits individuals awarded government contracts from contributing to a federal election is unconstitutional, three contractors say in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Federal Election Commission.

Under the law, a person with a government contract cannot contribute to a candidate for federal office or to any political party or committee that is involved in federal elections.

The suit was filed by Jan Miller and Lawrence Brown, consultants for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and University of Texas law professor Wendy Wagner, who is doing research for the Administrative Conference of the United States.

In their complaint, the contractors say the law violates the Constitution's equal protection clause and the First Amendment.

Under the equal protection clause, the suit says, the law should give individual contractors, like federal workers and corporate contractors, some ability to contribute to federal campaigns.

Miller and Brown, both former federal employees, now perform jobs similar to federal employees who are allowed to contribute to federal campaigns as long as the candidate is not the employer or employing authority of the contributor.

Corporations with government contracts can create political action committees to solicit campaign contributions. A corporate contractor's officers, employees and shareholders can also independently contribute to campaigns.

The suit also says the law violates the First Amendment because it is not tailored narrowly enough to achieve the government's goal of preventing people from using contributions to get government contracts.

Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Capital Area and co-counsel on the case, sees this discrepancy in the law: Federally elected officials the president, vice president and members of Congress aren't involved in an agency's choice to rehire a retired federal worker or award service contracts to consultants and researchers, he said. Meanwhile, large companies are allowed to contribute to federal campaigns when many of their major projects are decided by Congress, he said.

Co-counsel Alan Morrison, associate dean of public interest and public service at George Washington Law School, said many individual contractors are probably unaware that this law affects them.

"My guess is that lots of individuals made contributions without knowing they are illegal," he said.

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, said the case highlights the need to prevent all contractors from contributing to federal candidates.

"We don't want the exceptions becoming the rule," he said.

The case is filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A provision in the federal election campaign law regarding constitutionality cases requires the district judge to certify the relevant facts and send the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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