White House Abandons Executive Order to Force Gov. Contractors to Reveal Political Donations

A year ago, the White House composed a draft executive order that would make potential government contractors reveal their political donations if they want to submit a  bid. 12 months later, no final order has been issued, and it appears that the Obama administration no longer supports the issue.

“The executive order can potentially come back after the 2012 elections,” said Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen, a government watchdog group. “But I don’t consider it still being contemplated [now].”

Holman says Obama’s failure to pitch it in his State of the Union address sends a bad signal.

“Obama neglected to even mention it,” Holman said. “I consider it not to be even on the agenda.”

Democrats in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation on campaign spending that’s broader than the administration’s draft executive order. The Disclose Act, sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), would force corporations, including government contractors, to reveal all political contributions above $10,000 and take public credit for the political ads they sponsor.

The bills are designed to fight back against the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows for unlimited, anonymous campaign spending by corporations, unions and other special interests.

The Senate is considering a vote on the Whitehouse bill as early as May, Holman said, while Van Hollen may circulate a discharge petition to try and force a floor vote in the House. The GOP will likely stand in opposition, but Democrats are hoping to shine on a spotlight on Republican hypocrisy for claiming to support greater transparency but not the legislation.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who championed a successful amendment to last year’s omnibus that bars funding for contractor disclosure, is hoping to extend that prohibition in this year’s appropriations process.

Some Democrats are trying to persuade Obama to go around Congress and adopt the contractor order unilaterally.

“Any time is the right time for the president to sign an executive order to bring disclosure and transparency to those who do business with the federal government,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said Friday through a spokesman. “Get your pen out, Mr. President.”

“We’re not going to publicly speculate on future executive orders.” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

“But broadly speaking, the president is committed to improving our federal contracting system, making it more transparent and more accountable. He believes that American taxpayers deserve that, and that is why he has asked Congress to pass a full disclosure law,” Schultz added.

The administration’s draft order would require contractors vying for federal projects to disclose contributions to candidates, political parties or third-party political groups exceeding $5,000 in the two years prior to submitting a bid. It would apply to both companies and the individuals running them.

Supporters say the move would discourage companies from giving kick backs to the policymakers who pick the winning bids.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and a group of GOP leaders wrote to Obama last May warning that “the net effect” of the rule “would be stifled political speech,” as contractors shied away from political donations “to protect their livelihoods.”

Even a few leading Democrats objected to the draft order. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said contracts should be awarded only “on the merits of the contractor’s application and bid and capabilities.”

“There are some serious questions as to what implications there are if somehow we consider political contributions in the context of awarding contracts,” Hoyer, a strong supporter of the Disclose Act, said last May. “I’m not in agreement with the administration on that issue.”

Holman said campaign finance reformers sought to eliminate those concerns by urging the White House to alter its proposal by requiring disclosure from existing contractors, but not those bidding for future contracts.

“It would have avoided that entire controversy about political favoritism,” Holman said, adding that Obama missed “a huge opportunity” to make a political statement in an election year when political spending will reach well into the billions.

 

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