CAMPAIGN FINANCE:

Watchdog group files complaint against Chevron over donation to super PAC

Government reform advocates yesterday accused Chevron Corp. of violating campaign finance laws with a $2.5 million donation to a Republican-affiliated political action committee last fall, according to a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission.

In its complaint, the watchdog group Public Citizen cited federal law that prohibits federal contractors from making political donations, arguing that because the California-based firm has received "hundreds" of contracts since 2000 valued at more than $1.4 billion, it should not have been allowed to donate to the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC last October.

The complaint, jointly signed by Friends of the Earth U.S., Greenpeace and Oil Change International, also asked the FEC to investigate whether the super PAC, which is closely affiliated with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), "knowingly and willfully" solicited the donation.

But a Chevron Corp. spokesman denied wrongdoing, stating that the company does not believe the contractor ban applies "to this specific contribution."

"The contribution was made by Chevron Corporation. The Corporation does not conduct business with the federal government. Any such federal contracts are held by Chevron subsidiaries," spokesman Lloyd Avram told E&E Daily in an email. "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."

PAC spokesman Dan Conston dismissed Public Citizen's accusation as partisan gamesmanship in an email.

"This is an obvious coordinated intimidation tactic from the left masquerading as just one more utterly baseless complaint," Conston wrote.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said it will be about a month before the FEC decides whether it will pursue an investigation. In the meantime, the FEC will first determine whether the complaint is frivolous and, if it is not, will contact Chevron and the super PAC.

Although other federal contractors appeared to have also violated the prohibition on donations, Holman said the complaint targets Chevron because the company was the largest recipient of federal dollars and it made the most significant contribution -- in fact, its donation was the largest from a publicly traded company to a super PAC in the 2012 cycle.

"I want the FEC to come out and clarify what the law means for other government contractors," Holman said.

Although the super PAC targeted 14 Democrats, Holman said he was unable to persuade any of them to join the complaint.

"I was disappointed, but it was explained to me by several of the members that they are new here on the Hill, and taking on Boehner right away with a lawsuit would create an uncomfortable situation for them, and I can understand that," Holman said, referring to three freshman lawmakers who won elections despite being targets of the super PAC.

He added of the eight candidates who lost: "Others felt it might look like sour grapes."

Democrats targeted by the super PAC who lost their re-election bids were former Reps. Betty Sutton of Ohio, Kathleen Hochul of New York and Leonard Boswell of Iowa. Targeted non-incumbents who lost their races were ex-Wisconsin state Sen. Patrick Kreitlow; Shelley Adler, wife of the late Rep. John Adler of New Jersey; ex-Michigan state Rep. Gary McDowell; former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings of Florida; and physician David Gill of Illinois.

Democrats who won despite the super PAC's efforts are freshman Reps. Pete Gallego of Texas, Brad Schneider of Illinois and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and incumbent Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, John Barrow of Georgia and Lois Capps of California.

Click here to read the full 91-page complaint.