Federal Election Commission officials have fined a federal contractor on Thursday for donating $200,000 to a Hillary Clinton super PAC, setting a historic precedent.
Federal contractors are prohibited from donating to political groups under the federal laws.
A Massachusetts-based company, Suffolk Construction, was fined $34,000 for making two $100,000 donations in 2015 to a pro-Clinton Priorities USA Action group while having a million-dollar government contract.
The company has been awarded more than $168 million in government contracts since 2008 and held a contract with the Department of Defense worth more than $1.2 million between at the time of the donations, according to an FEC letter published by the Campaign Legal Center.
Priorities USA Action is known as one of the Democratic Party's most powerful PACs that supported Barack Obama in 2012, and was the leading pro-Clinton group during the 2016 presidential elections, spending more than $126 million against now-President Donald Trump.
Suffolk Construction argued that the government contracts they hold represent only a “small fraction” of their work and the PAC refunded the donation in June 2016. FEC officials did not accept the company’s justification, noting that the donations were not refunded urgently.
“While Suffolk may consider its federal contract work a ‘de minimis’ portion of its overall work, its $200,000 contributions to the Committee are not de minimis,” FEC wrote in the letter.
The complaint against the federal contractor was brought by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 in 2016 pointing out the illegal donations. They celebrated the penalty, hoping the example will deter companies from donating to political groups.
“Hopefully this decision by the FEC deters companies with business before the government from attempting to buy influence in the future,” Democracy 21 general counsel Donald Simon said in a statement.
Brett Kappel, a political campaign finance expert, told the Boston Herald “There had been no precedent” for the FEC decision to fine the federal contractor.
“This is actually similar to other issues with pay-to-play laws,” the expert said. “If you make a contribution (as a contractor), it’s a violation of the law. It doesn’t matter how small a portion of your business it is.”
The fined federal contractor has since “implemented new internal controls” to ensure no other illegal donations will occur in the future. The FEC claims the company did not knowingly break the laws.