Individual contractors sue over right to make campaign gifts

Three individual awardees of federal contacts filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of a 1972 law that makes it a crime for such contractors to give campaign donations to candidates in any federal election.

The plaintiffs -- two contractors for the U.S. Agency for International Development and one for the Administrative Conference of the United States -- argued that a section of the Federal Election Campaign Act violates both the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and the First Amendment. They said the federal employees they work with are not subject to the ban and that the law treats corporations with larger government contracts more favorably than it does individuals.

"Many individuals who have government contracts are unaware of this provision, which does not even allow someone to give $10 to a candidate or committee that has nothing to do with government contracts," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Alan B. Morrison, associate dean for public interest and public service at The George Washington University Law School, in a statement accompanying the release of the complaint. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

"Not only does this law discriminate against contractors as compared to federal employees who are doing identical work," added co-counsel and National Capital Area American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Arthur Spitzer, "but it is the only campaign finance law that actually favors corporations, which cannot vote, over citizens, who can."

The suit was filed by lawyer and personal services provider Jan Miller and human resources adviser Lawrence Brown, who have long-term contracts with USAID. They were joined by University of Texas law professor Wendy Wagner, who is contracted to perform $12,000 in research for the ACUS.

Miller and Brown previously worked for USAID and were allowed to make contributions to federal elections until they retired and resumed work with their agency as contractors.

Corporate contractors have long given campaign donations through political action committees. The Obama administration has been mulling an executive order since last spring that would require such federal contractors to disclose their donations to political campaigns, a move actively opposed by Republican lawmakers and many in the contractor community.

The issue was revived in July when 62 House Democrats sent a letter to President Obama urging him to issue the order because "more transparency, not less, places us on the right side of history."

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