Federal Contractors Donating To Super PACs

The Los Angeles Times reports that Mitt Romney's Super PAC Restore Our Future has accepted $890,000 in donations from five federal contractors in apparent violation of a 1976 amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act. But the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that paved the way for unlimited contributions to Super PACs makes the status of this amendment unclear. What's more, under that decision employees of these companies are free to make large individual contributions, as did William Koch of Oxbow Carbon when he donated $250,000 to Restore Our Future. 

Of the $890,000 donated to Restore Our Future, Oxbow donated $750,000, and the four other contractors donated $140,000, $110,000 less than William Koch. When an employee of one contractor exerts more financial impact on a campaign than do groups of other contractors, it's time to reassess the relevance of laws such as the 1976 Federal Election Campaign Act amendment. The numbers appear to say: Let federal contractors contribute to Super PACs.

Alex Seitz-Wald explains in his article about federal contractors and Super PACs that the purpose of the 1976 amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act was to prevent businesses from using money paid to them by the federal government, in other words by taxpayers, to make political contributions that might influence future contract awards. In that context, why employee donations are possible may seem perplexing; wouldn't at least some employee money come from federally-derived revenue? Yes, but there's no guarantee that employees of federal contractors will make political donations that align with their employers' political agendas.

But William Koch is the founder and CEO of Oxbow Carbon. It wouldn't be surprising if his personal politics were mirrored by the politics of his company; the donation numbers support this. He is one of the billionaire Koch brothers noted for making donations to conservative causes. If the law prevents Oxbow from donating to Restore Our Future, American Crossroads, or any other conservative Super PAC, William Koch will find another way to promote his agenda. Denying Oxbow the right to make donations will not stop William Koch, making the attempt is an exercise in useless regulation. Only when campaign financing is reformed in a manner the courts approve will the inequities that Citizens United introduced be addressed. I'd like public financing, but that's a discussion for another day.

Meanwhile we have to live with the system the way it is, which means that for a while at least the fat cats get their way. William Koch talks about his donations representing his right to "free speech." But in reflecting on how Restore Our Future-sponsored advertising has impacted caucauses or primaries in states such as Iowa, Florida, and Illinois, you have to wonder if we live in a time where the right to freedom of speech must be bought. If that's so, we'd better hope that there's a diversity of opinions among those with deep pockets and the willingness to empty them for poltical causes. Otherwise, our political landscape will become increasingly barren and apathy will reign.