April 11, 2012

Bowing To K Street, Obama Gives Up On Requiring Government Contractors To Disclose Campaign Contributions

Bowing To K Street, Obama Gives Up On Requiring Government Contractors To Disclose Campaign Contributions
As a member of the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama once championed contractor disclosure, cosponsoring a law with Republican Senator Tom Coburn to make government spending more accessible to the general public. Now, Obama has bowed to powerful corporations and is refusing to require that companies that receive taxpayer money disclose their contributions to politicians.

President Obama could take action right now to help clean up our election system. Last month, we published a list of different steps Obama could take immediately, including issuing executive orders and using the S.E.C. to require publicly traded companies to disclose political spending for investors. But as The Hill’s Mike Lillis reports, the administration appears to be abandoning the idea of issuing an executive order mandating that government contractors disclose their campaign spending:

A year ago, the White House composed a draft executive order that would have forced potential government contractors to reveal their political spending as a condition of submitting bids. But roughly 12 months later, no final order has been issued, and supporters and critics alike say they’ve seen no signs such a change is forthcoming.

Government contractors, including big military companies and for-profit enterprises that depend on taxpayer funds, are known for using large sums of money to buy influence.

Obama’s capitulation can be seen as a product of intense lobbying from K Street interests. Lobbying front groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents major government contractors like CSC and United Technologies, led the effort to block the disclosure executive order. A top Chamber lobbyist even compared the disclosure idea to war, saying that his organization would fight the rule just as allied forces fought Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya.

The president’s actions contrast sharply with his campaign. While the Obama for President committee rightly demands that undisclosed attack ad groups like Americans for Prosperity reveal their billionaire financiers — the reality is, Obama could open up AFP’s books today by issuing this executive order, since Koch Industries, the company closely aligned with AFP, is a constant player for federal taxpayer-funded contracts.

Obama isn’t the only Democrat retreating on campaign disclosure. The House of Representatives recently voted on a strong amendment by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) to require corporations and special interets spending over $10,000 on campaign advertisements to disclose. Every Republican, except for five brave members, opposed the amendment. But almost just as disturbing was the group of Democrats also voting against the amendment, including five — Reps. Cardoza (CA), Cooper (TN), Schrader (OR), and Shuler (NC) — who supported an almost identical disclosure law only two years ago.

On the bright side, the F.C.C. appears to be moving forward with a common sense idea to disclose television political spending on an easily accessible website. This would not reveal any new donor information, but would allow the public to find out which groups purchase ad spaces, and which firms are producing the ads.