Some say yes, at least for this year, the time has passed for President Obama to issue an executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose their political contributions. But some transparency advocates say a window of opportunity still exists for transparency into corporate political contributions.
The door is still open if the administration does not tie the award of contracts to political disclosure, the main objection of critics, Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, said Monday. The administration instead should require anyone who receives federal money, including grant recipients, to disclose their political contribution information after award, Amey said.
“Certainly, the disclosure of this information shouldn’t be so tightly constrained [to government contractors],” Amey said in a recent blog post. “With nearly $550 billion spent each year on grants, I would love to see the [executive order]include disclosure by all entities receiving federal funds.”
Critics calls the order, a draft of which was leaked around this time last year, an attempt to override the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That decision protected corporate donations to political, third-party organizations and drove millions of dollars into the 2010 elections.
Republicans moved quickly to stop any potential executive order with language in this year’s defense authorization bill and an omnibus appropriations bill. Civilian agencies are now prohibited from asking contractors to disclose contributions before an award. Defense agencies cannot ask for that information before or after an award.
The legislation still leaves room for the President to order contractors at civilian agencies to disclose their political contributions after the award of a contract. Groups like Public Citizen and lawmakers supportive of disclosure asked the President to issue a revised order around the time of his State of the Union speech this year, which unofficially marked the beginning of Obama’s campaign season, said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen.
“The door was wide open,” Holman said in an interview Monday. “The fact that the President didn’t go ahead with it at the State of the Union means that it’s just too little too late at this point.”
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., disagreed: “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,” Eshoo said through a spokesman.
In the meantime, Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would require all corporations to disclose their political contributions greater than $10,0000. The Democrat-controlled Senate is working on a floor vote in the next few weeks, Holman said. Even without any Republican support, Holman said the vote on the bill will send the message that transparency is a priority for the administration, Holman said.
“It will force everyone to say yes or no when it comes to transparency of money and politics,” he said.