The Federal Election Commission has fined Boston-based Suffolk Construction Co., a federal government contractor, for making illegal contributions to a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC, according to a letter from the agency.
The $34,000 settlement between the FEC and Suffolk appears to mark the FEC’s first penalty against a government contractor for illegally contributing money to a super PAC — a kind of political group that may raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and unions.
The Center for Public Integrity first reported in April 2016 that Suffolk Construction had made a pair of $100,000 contributions to Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC supporting Clinton’s 2016 Democratic presidential campaign. Campaign finance reform groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center filed a joint complaint with the FEC in July 2016, based in part on the Center for Public Integrity’s previous reporting.
“We applaud the FEC for upholding the integrity of the contractor contribution ban,” said Brendan Fischer, the Campaign Legal Center’s director of federal and FEC reform. “The reason federal contractors have been banned for 75 years from making political contributions is to prevent pay-to-play in the contracting process. Hopefully, this decision by the FEC deters companies with business before the government from attempting to buy influence in the future.”
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Priorities USA Action, which the FEC cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the Suffolk Construction contribution, was run by close Clinton allies and spent more than $126 million on ads and other messaging attacking then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, according to FEC records.
In July 2016, Priorities USA Action returned the contributions to Suffolk Construction, which from 2008 to 2015 had earned $168.8 million worth of federal contracts, according to federal records. Federal law generally prohibits federal contractors from making political contributions.
But in October 2016, Suffolk again attempted to help fund a pro-Clinton super PAC.
This time, the company’s charitable arm gave $250,000 to Correct the Record, which at times worked directly with Clinton’s own campaign. Such charitable organizations are prohibited from giving political committees money. Correct the Record returned the contribution after questions about it from the Center for Public Integrity.
A representative from Suffolk Construction could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday evening. Last year, company spokesman Dan Antonellis said the contribution to Correct the Record was an “accounting error” and blamed the Priorities USA Action contributions on “internal accounting … ambiguity.”