Watchdogs say Chevron made illegal donation to GOP super-PAC

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Invoking a longstanding “Pay-to-Play” ban signed by Congress, the four groups say the oil company — which brought in nearly $254 billion in revenue in 2011 — is essentially paying for access to Congress.

“Government contractors such as Chevron are strictly prohibited by federal law from making ‘any … contribution to any political party, committee or candidate for public office or to any person for any political purpose or use,” their complaint reads.

“That money buys them government contracts and House leadership that reliably backs Big Oil’s agenda including preserving subsidies and gutting regulations. It’s a bargain for Chevron and the American people have to pay,” said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International, in a statement.

However, federal election laws have often held that parent companies and their subcontractors are separate entities — a distinction that Chevron highlighted in a statement to The Hill.

“Chevron does not believe that the federal government contractor ban applies to this specific contribution. The contribution was made by Chevron Corporation, [which]… does not conduct business with the federal government. Any such federal contracts are held by Chevron subsidiaries,” said company spokesman Lloyd Avram.

“Chevron exercises its fundamental right and responsibility to participate in the political process. We make political contributions where permitted by law and in accordance with our policy. We support candidates, organizations or ballot measures committed to economic development, free enterprise and good government,” he continued.

Dan Conston, the communications director for the Congressional Leadership Fund, blasted the petition as “an obvious coordinated intimidation tactic from the left masquerading as just one more utterly baseless complaint.”

The landmark Citizens United decision that was handed down by the Supreme Court in 2010 allowed corporations for the first time to spend money from their general treasuries opposing and supporting political candidates.

That ruling has created grey areas in campaign finance law, including on the long-standing “Pay-For-Play” regulations. The FEC has not taken a position on how the Supreme Court’s ruling affects those rules.

Watchdog groups say the Chevron case is an opportunity for the FEC put teeth behind campaign finance laws.

“By taking a strong stand against Chevron’s actions, the FEC would clearly signal to federal contractors and political organizations that trading cash for favors will not be tolerated,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, in a statement. “Such action is crucial to protect democracy from the corrupting influence of corporate money.”

Chevron’s $2.5 million contribution accounted for about 22 percent of the super-PAC’s $11.3 million in receipts for the 2012 elections, according to federal records.

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