Chevron Corp. may have broken a law against government contractors’ giving money to political campaigns by contributing $2.5 million to a Republican “super PAC” last fall, according to a complaint filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.
The complaint, from a government watchdog group and several environmental organizations, argues that Chevron’s donation violated a 73-year-old “pay-to-play” law that bars federal contractors from contributing to political candidates, committees or campaigns. Oil company Chevron, based in San Ramon, had $501 million in sales to the federal government in the last fiscal year.
The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the door to increased corporate spending on politics, did not overturn the pay-to-play law, said the author of Tuesday’s complaint against Chevron.
“There is a long, long, sordid history of government contractors’ essentially trying to bribe people with authority over contracts,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the Public Citizen watchdog group.
“As long as you have a federal government contract, you’re prohibited from making a federal contribution.”
Chevron’s donation supplied roughly 22 percent of the money raised by the super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund for the 2012 election cycle, according to Public Citizen. The fund spent its money on ads attacking Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives.
Chevron argues that the law allows a corporation to make political donations if its federal contracts are held by subsidiaries, not by the parent corporation itself. Courts have upheld that argument in the past, Holman said.
“Chevron does not believe that the federal government contractor ban applies to this specific contribution,” said company spokesman Lloyd Avram, in an e-mail to The San Francisco Chronicle.
“The contribution was made by Chevron Corp. The corporation does not conduct business with the federal government. Any such federal contracts are held by Chevron subsidiaries.”
The USASpending.gov website, which tracks federal expenditures, shows multiple transactions with Chevron Corp., in addition to many more with subsidiaries such as Chevron U.S.A.
The transactions with Chevron Corp. tend to be older and smaller than those with Chevron subsidiaries, although they appear as recently as last year. The bulk of the company’s sales to the federal government come through Chevron U.S.A.
Federal documents filed by the Congressional Leadership Fund, do not specify whether the donation came from the corporation or one of its subsidiaries. The documents simply list the donor’s name as “Chevron” and give as an address a post office box in Concord.
That PO box number appears in numerous state-level campaign finance reports available online, often under slightly different names.
It’s the Chevron Corp. address in a 2008 filing in New Mexico. A Texas finance report in 2010 lists it as the address for Chevron Products Co. An Oregon campaign finance report gives it as the address for Chevron Policy, Government & Public Affairs.
Holman filed his complaint against Chevron U.S.A., the subsidiary that appears to hold most of Chevron’s government contracts.
“The final determination, obviously, would have to come from an investigation from the FEC to determine if they’re the same entities, which I have no doubt that they are,” Holman said.