Let's Have Contractor Disclosure Already
by Gary Therkildsen*
Aug 2, 2011
Last week, a group of more than 60 House lawmakers sent a letter to President Obama offering their "full support" for final release of a proposed executive order (EO) that would require disclosure of contractors' political spending. After more than three months of baseless attacks on the prospective EO from a relentless special interest smear machine, it's time for the president to establish this basic measure of accountability within the federal contracting system.
When last we checked in on the EO, reactionary congressional members were attempting to preempt the order through amendments to defense authorization bills and several appropriations measures. The amendments would prevent federal agencies from using appropriated funds to implement “any rule, regulation or executive order” regarding contractor disclosure of political contributions.
This is amazing for several reasons, foremost among them, as Lisa Rosenberg at the Sunlight Foundation points out, being that members are legislating against a boogeyman. "Opponents of disclosure are responding to a draft EO," showing 1) how fearful big business is of this potential piece of transparency – providing further justification for the order in my book – and 2) how beholden many members of Congress are to the Chamber of Commerce and other corporate special interests.
Sunlight recently released an analysis of a small group of Democratic House lawmakers who voted in favor of one of the anti-disclosure amendments, showing just how beholden some are. Not surprisingly, "On average, the 18 ... members received about 63 percent of their campaign contributions from corporate sources for the 2010 election," with several of them taking in more than 80 percent.
Notwithstanding this minority contingent, the 62 Democratic House members supporting the president have this right. As Rosenberg mentions, the government has always stipulated conditions, including reporting requirements, for receipt of taxpayer dollars through a federal contract, and, "Disclosure of contributions is no more burdensome than any other check imposed on potential contractors." In other words, disclosure of political spending is a reasonable requirement for doing business with the federal government.
Importantly, though Congress has added amendments to both House and Senate defense authorization bills and several House appropriations bills, no final piece of legislation has come across the president's desk with an anti-disclosure amendment attached to it. Before Congress forces him to choose between rejecting an unjust amendment and funding important government programs, President Obama should implement his disclosure EO.
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