Republicans Push Back On Obama Plan To Force Disclosure Of Political Contributions

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May 5, 2011 9:56 p.m.
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Republicans are predictably pushing back against President Obama’s proposed executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political donations to third-party groups.

House GOP leaders and 19 other Republicans sent a letter to Obama Friday urging him not to issue the executive order, arguing it would introduce politics into the federal-government contracting practice and stifle political speech.“This proposed EO seems like a blatant attempt to intimidate, and potentially silence certain speakers who are engaged in their constitutionally protected right to free speech,” the House Republicans wrote.

In addition to the free speech constitutional issues, Republicans are assailing the stated goal of the executive order under consideration — that it is meant as a means to keep the federal contracting process free of undue political influence. In fact, its critics argue, it will do just the opposite.

“By requiring [the political donations of contractors] to be disclosed to federal agencies prior to the award of a contract, the proposed EO feeds into the notion that the granting or the denial of an award may have been based on whether the Administration viewed the applicant as a political support or a political enemy, further driving the cynicism American have in [sic] their government.”

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and 19 other Republicans, including several committee chairmen, signed the letter.

The only problem with the logic is that, up until early 2010, federal contractors and all businesses had to disclose their political activity. Before the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizen’s United ruling, federal contractors and all companies that donated or spent money on elections were forced to set up a political action committee and disclose their campaign finances to the Federal Election Committee.

The Citizens United ruling lifted most of those rules — all companies and unions can donate unlimited amounts of money straight from their treasuries — and they don’t have to report it to anyone. Democrats are trying to force at least a level of disclosure so voters can track those special interests attempts at influencing elections.

President Obama and advocates of more campaign-finance transparency are trying to find ways to implement elements of the so-called Disclose Act, a bill sponsored by Van Hollen
and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that failed to pass the Senate in 2010. That measure was designed to counter some aspects of last year’s landmark Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allows unlimited corporate and union treasury funds to fund independent campaign ads.

The proposed executive order is one way to force some disclosure without having to pass a bill through Congress. It would affect thousands of contractors — many in the mammoth defense contracting world. After news broke about the circulating White House proposal, Republicans and members of the business community including the U.S. Chamber immediately cried foul, arguing that the order would restrict free speech and could result in businesses being unfairly penalized for their political leanings and donations.

But advocates for greater restrictions on campaign finance laws wholeheartedly embraced the proposal. Earlier this week, they rallied support for the order on Capitol Hill and urged Obama to issue it quickly before the 2012 campaign season kicks into gear.

The groups argue that many of the Republicans who are now saying more disclosure would stifle free speech, including Cantor and McCarthy, advocated for more transparency and greater disclosure for political donations and expenditures not too long ago.

“Anything that moves us back towards that notion of transparency and real-time reporting of donations and contributions I think would be a helpful move towards restoring confidence of voters,” Cantor told Newsweek right after the Citizens United ruling.

McCarthy is quoted in the same article as sharing a similar philosophy.

“I watched in California campaign-finance reform and what’s happened is…people now move money through central committees at the last minute so you don’t get the transparency,” he said. “It doesn’t get [at] what the public thought was going to happen. The best way, the fairest way, is greater transparency. Let people understand where it is going and what’s happening.”

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