Ban on Contractor Political Contributions Upheld

In a unanimous en banc decision, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected constitutional challenges to the statutory ban on government contractor campaign contributions because the government demonstrated a sufficiently important interest and used closely drawn means to further that interest.

52 USC 30119 prohibits government contractors from making contributions “to any political party, committee, or candidate for federal office or to any person for any political purpose or use.” The appeal concerned the application of §30119 to contributions by individual contractors to a federal candidate or political party.

Under the standard of review for laws regulating campaign contributions, “[e]ven a significant interference with protected rights of political association may be sustained if the State demonstrates a sufficiently important interest and employs means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms” (McCutcheon v. FEC, 134 SCt 1434).

The court rejected the contractors’ arguments for applying strict scrutiny and noted a more deferential balancing test might apply because the contractors’ positions were nearly indistinguishable from government employees.

Nevertheless, the government’s asserted interest in protecting against quid pro quo corruption and the appearance of corruption would satisfy even strict scrutiny, and this interest was reinforced by the government’s interest in protecting against interference with merit-based public administration.

The court then surveyed the history of §30119 and more recent examples of corruption, concluding the ban on contributions was closely drawn to further the government’s interests. The court rejected the contractors’ First Amendment challenge based on arguments the ban was under- as well as over-inclusive, and it determined the contractors’ equal protection claim merely recast the same arguments. (Wagner, et al. v. Federal Election Commission, CA-DC, 59 CCF ¶80,690)