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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Federal Contractors Still Can’t Support Candidates

WASHINGTON (CN) - It is constitutional for Congress to bar government contractors from contributing to political candidates, parties and their committees, a federal judge ruled.

The 19-page decision from U.S. District Judge James Boasberg follows up on his refusal to enjoin the law in July.

"While foes of campaign-finance laws have repeatedly and successfully challenged limits on political expenditures, limits on political contributions have escaped relatively unscathed," Boasberg wrote. "Plaintiffs in this suit aim to change that trend. They seek to invalidate one of the harshest contribution restrictions in the U.S. Code: a full-blown ban on political contributions by federal contractors. The court has already denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding that they were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claim. The parties have now renewed their battle by filing cross-motions for summary judgment. On revisiting the previous decision, the court reaches the same conclusion."

The decision notes that the plaintiffs are three individuals with federal contracts,

"One has a sole-source (i.e., no-bid) contract for $12,000 to prepare a report on how agencies can use science more effectively for the Administrative Conference of the United States," Boasberg wrote. "Another plaintiff supervises federal employees for the U.S. Agency for International Development, earning $598.08 per day - about $150,000 if he works full time. The last is a policy adviser for USAID, earning $596 per day. The two plaintiffs who contract with USAID formerly worked for that agency as federal employees and accrue benefits in the same manner as employees.

"Each Plaintiff has previously contributed to federal candidates, parties, or committees and wishes to do so again. Section 441c blocks them from making such contributions. According to plaintiffs, § 441c thereby violates the First Amendment and the equal-protection guarantee in the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause."

Boasberg was relentless in shooting down these claims while granting the government summary judgment on Friday.

The crux of the decision hinges on the appearance of corruption.

"Contributions to groups allowed to coordinate with the candidate, furthermore, can circumvent limits on direct candidate contributions," Boasberg wrote. "From the candidate's point of view, money that can be spent in coordination is almost as good as money in his kitty - and thus justifies the same corruption fears. Using that anticircumvention rationale, the Supreme Court has upheld many restrictions on coordinated funds.

The fact that scandals behind today's ban occurred decades ago did not change things for the judge.

But while the federal government has had no recent experience with legal contributions by its contractors, states have," Boasberg wrote. "And their experiences substantiate the corruption worries that attend contributions by government contractors."

"Indeed, state campaign financing brims with corrupt contractor-candidate relationships," he added. "In Connecticut, for example, former Governor John Rowland pled guilty to accepting 'gifts and services from state contractors, including vacations, flights on a private jet, and renovations to his lake cottage,' in exchange for steering further state contracts to the contractors. New York City experienced 'actual pay-to-play scandals in the 1980s.' In Illinois, Governor Rod Blagojevich reportedly designated a '$25,000 club' for donors giving $25,000, and three-quarters of those donors 'got something - from lucrative state contracts to coveted state board appointments to favorable policy and regulatory actions.'"

Some contractors report feeling that their contracts hinge on continuing campaign contributions, according to the ruling.

"Congress need not roll back its longstanding ban and wait for a scandal to arise in order to provide evidence that § 441c prevents corruption," Boasberg wrote.

The decision did not conclude with references to "the Democratic campaign-book racket and recent state scandals involving state contractors."

He also shot show arguments that the ban is alternately over- and under-inclusive.

"Neither argument is convincing," Boasberg wrote.

"Plaintiffs throw out a couple more First Amendment objections to see what sticks," he added. "Nothing does."

In this section, Boasberg slammed the plaintiffs for their "mushier" comparison that the law treats contractors worse than federal employees.

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