The Federal Election Commission hit Marathon Petroleum Company with a $85,000 fine in February.Because Marathon has contracts with the federal government, it’s barred from making political contributions.The oil refinery and transportation company give $500,000 apiece to 2 Republican political committees.Sign up for our weekday newsletter, packed with original analysis, news, and trends — delivered right to your inbox.Loading Something is loading.
In the summer of 2020, the oil refinery and transportation giant contributed $500,000 apiece to the Senate Leadership Fund and the Congressional Leadership Fund, two political action committees that spend money on ads to boost Republicans in Senate and House elections, respectively.
But there was one problem: Marathon has contracts with the federal government, and federal campaign finance laws prohibit federal contractors from making any political contributions while negotiating or performing federal contracts.
In October 2020, the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the commission .
Both political action committees quickly informed the commission the following month that they did not know Marathon was a federal contractor at the time they received the contributions.
In its own January 2021 response , Marathon argued that “had not historically engaged in federal government contracting” and the company’s lawyers were “unaware” that the company “was negotiating, had entered into, or was performing a federal government contract at the time of the contributions.”
The oil giant asked that the commission exercise discretion and simply dismiss the complaint, arguing that the contributions had already been refunded and the contributions were a result of “innocent oversight.”
But the commission’s legal counsel disagreed, writing in August 2021 that Marathon’s “argument that its federal contract work represented a ‘small percentage’ of its business does not negate the company’s status as a federal contractor.”
Further, they wrote that the company’s $1 million in political spending constituted the “largest federal contractor contributions to an [outside spending group] that the Commission has considered in an enforcement matter.”
In February, the commission unanimously voted to accept a conciliation agreement with the company , leaving Marathon with the $85,000 fine and a pledge to not violate campaign finance laws again.
The company paid the fine last week.
It’s not the only fine the commission issued last month against federal contractors who made political contributions.
The commission also hit 3M Company with a $4,500 fine after it contributed $50,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund in 2018, and hit TonerQuest with a $4,700 fine after it gave $25,000 to America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC, in 2019.
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