What do Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have in common? (Be nice …) Both presidential aspirants saw their super-PACS get cash from a federal contractor, which is supposed to be against the law. The Hill reports that Bush’s Right to Rise got $10,000 in 2015, but that’s a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $200,000 Hillary’s Priorities USA got from Suffolk Construction:
A super-PAC backing Hillary Clinton has accepted $200,000 in donations from a company holding multiple contracts with the federal government — despite a ban on such contributions.
According to a review of contributions by The Hill, Boston-based Suffolk Construction made two contributions of $100,000 to Priorities USA, which is backing the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
At the time it made the contributions, Suffolk held multiple contracts worth $976,560 with the Department of Defense for maintenance and construction projects at a Naval base in Newport, R.I., and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., according to the government website USASpending.gov.
The law banning federal contractors from contributing to political campaigns goes back decades, The Hill’s Harper Neidig and Jonathan Swan report, but it has yet to be tested at the Supreme Court. The intent of the law was to prevent pay-to-play incentives from elections. Federal contractors could conceivably make “investments” in politicians with their eyes on lucrative contracts down the road. That kind of regulatory approach sounds almost quaint in this cycle, especially with Hillary Clinton’s family foundation having sold access and support for the last 15 years in anticipation of a presidential run.
Would the Supreme Court uphold the law, if challenged? In a more libertarian mode, one might think that Citizens United might provide controlling precedent. Given the sturm und drang over that ruling, and the untimely passing of Antonin Scalia, it’s not quite so certain that the court will use Citizens United as any kind of precedent, and might be inclined to limit or even reverse it if given the chance. But even if the court upheld the law, who will enforce it? That would fall to the Federal Elections Commission, which (as Neidig and Swan note) is almost always paralyzed on any substantive issue.
Perhaps the notoriety of the donations might shame the candidates, especially if the media started pressing them on their connections to the industrial-governmental complex. But that’s a series of hypotheses even less credible than potential FEC action.