Politics

Regulators fine Suffolk Construction for super PAC donation

Suffolk Construction, which claims to be the largest general contracting company in Massachusetts, is run by John Fish, one of the city’s most prominent civic leaders.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2015
Suffolk Construction, which claims to be the largest general contracting company in Massachusetts, is run by John Fish, one of the city’s most prominent civic leaders.

Suffolk Construction, the Boston-based company that has over the years benefited from hundred of millions of dollars in federal contracts, has been fined $34,000 by the Federal Election Commission for donating $200,000 to a political action committee supporting Hillary Clinton’s 2016 president campaign.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, which uncovered the violation, the settlement appears to be the FEC’s first penalty leveled against a government contractor for illegally contributing money to a super PAC.

Federal campaign finance law prohibits a firm that is bidding for or holds contracts with the federal government from making federal political donations.

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The firm made a $100,000 donation in July 2015 and another $100,000 in December 2015 to the super PAC, Priorities USA Action. During that period, the company was working on $1.278 million in defense contracts for the Army Corps of Engineers.

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The Center had reported Suffolk’s contributions to the FEC in April 2016. Two watchdog groups — Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center — filed a complaint with the FEC in July 2016. That month the PAC returned the contributions.

“Once Suffolk discovered this accounting error, the funds were immediately returned,” said Daniel Antonellis, vice president for marketing and communications at Suffolk Construction.

Suffolk argued in its negotiations with the FEC that its federal contract in 2015, the year the donations were made, was a “de minimis” portion of its overall construction work. The federal regulators rejected the argument, noting that the size of the donation to the PAC was not “de minimis.”

Still, the FEC said, it did not find the firm’s violation was “knowing and willful.”

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The company also agreed to put in place an internal review process that includes an outside legal counsel to vet its donations.

Suffolk Construction, which claims to be the largest general contracting company in Massachusetts, is run by John Fish, one of the city’s most prominent civic leaders.

The FEC said Priorities USA Action had not violated any laws.

Frank Phillips can be reached at frank.phillips@globe.com.