WaPo and the GOP Take Aim at Disclosure EO
by Gary Therkildsen*
Jun 10, 2011
In a thoroughly confused editorial published last weekend, the Washington Post told readers it simply does not care for President Obama’s draft executive order (EO) on contractor disclosure, claiming it’s “uneasy” with the “well-intentioned but flawed” proposal. Coming to the Post’s rescue, though, congressional Republicans have introduced stand-alone legislation similar to the recently passed Cole amendment that would prevent federal agencies from requiring contractors to disclose political spending to the public.
Following the flawed assumptions of most major news outlets, the Post believes that the truth in the disclosure EO battle lays somewhere between good government supporters and conservative critics.
Thus, while bemoaning the “gusher of secret money … flowing into the political system” since Citizens United, the WaPo’s purveyors of beltway conventional wisdom borrow the Chamber of Commerce’s talking points to decry the president’s “end run around” both Congress and the Supreme Court through “executive fiat.”
If all of that seems to miss the mark, it’s because it does. As OMB Watch has pointed out several times, it is perfectly within the president’s power to sign an EO requiring contractors to disclose their political spending as a condition of bidding on federal contracts.
As Gary Bass, our executive director, argues in response to the Post’s editorial, “The president should be applauded for not sitting on his hands” while Congress is gridlocked and “powerful special interests, many of which bid on federal contracts, continue to pour huge sums of money into the political system without meaningful accountability or disclosure.”
If Republicans – and some Democrats – in Congress have their way, though, it won’t matter whether President Obama signs the draft EO. Introduced as companion legislation at the end of May by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the nauseatingly titled “Keeping Politics Out of Federal Contracting Act” would negate any policy requiring contractor disclosure.
Talk about beating a dead horse. It seems the only argument opponents of the draft disclosure EO can get the public to respond to is claiming that requiring potential contractors to disclose their political spending to the public will somehow introduce politics into federal contracting.
Ben Freeman over at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), does a good job of refuting this line of attack, noting that those who are arguing most vehemently against the draft EO stand to benefit from the status quo; that plenty of states and localities require similar disclosure; and that Citizens United supports this very policy.
Despite the witty title, the Keeping Politics Out of Federal Contracting Act doesn’t stand much of a chance as long as President Obama is holding the veto pen. Still, the president should sign the draft EO as soon as possible, setting the stage for comprehensive campaign finance reform in a post-Citizens United world.
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