No leeway on contractor campaign gifts

The <i>Citizen United</i> decision came down in January 2010. The <i>Citizen United</i> decision came down in January 2010. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A district judge’s rejection of a request by three federal contract employees to temporarily relax a long-standing ban on contractor campaign contributions likely prolongs the uncertainty on the issue during the first full election cycle since the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling on corporations and politics.

On April 16, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg denied a request for a preliminary injunction filed by three corporate employees -- two under contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development and one who supports the Administrative Conference of the United States, an independent agency that uses research and private sector expertise to improve the government’s rule-making.

As reported by the Associated Press, the three are suing to prevent the Federal Election Commission from enforcing a 70-year-old ban on direct corporate giving to candidates, which they say is a violation of free speech.

A ban specifically aimed at contractors was enacted to prevent the use of donations to enhance chances of winning future contract awards. The Obama administration for more than a year has been mulling an executive order -- a draft of which was leaked -- that would require greater disclosure of campaign gifts by corporations involved in federal contracting.

The judge’s denial of an injunction was “disappointing, but not surprising,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council. “It’s an adverse ruling and not a minor one,” but its effect is that the case now continues on the merits, he added. PSC sides with the three contractors because of ambiguity on what the ban on campaign gifts means, even though they represent “a narrow segment” of the contractor community, Chvotkin said.

Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for national security and procurement policy at TechAmerica, said the ruling “muddies the water” on political activity and the prospects for a possible Obama order on contractor disclosure. “They seem to be in conflict,” he said. “If contractors can’t give campaign donations, why require them to disclose?”

The judge’s decision was welcomed by Scott Amey, general counsel of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight. “Mixing politics and contracting is bad for taxpayers and a recipe for corruption,” he said in an email. “Not only was the court sound in denying the request to lift the ban on contractor campaign giving, but I would love to see the prohibition expanded to include contractor political action committees and the listing of employers' names for individual donors, which are alternative ways for contractors to gain access and favor in Congress.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.