Thursday, May 12, 2011
President Obama's draft executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political donations came under attack on two fronts today--in a joint hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Committee on Small Business, and in a letter from a bipartisan quartet in the Senate.
The draft EO requires that "all entities submitting offers for federal contracts to disclose certain political contributions and expenditures that they have made within the two years prior to submission of their offer." This was the White House's answer to the failure of the Disclose Act in the Senate--a modest attempt to shine light on the political activities of government contractors, the only sector over which the executive might require such disclosure without the aid of Congress. (The Disclose Act itself was a modest attempt to shine light on the political activities of corporations in the wake of Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court case last term that overturned spending limits on corporations and labor unions under the First Amendment, but that upheld disclosure requirements.)
But the draft EO hit a roadblock: Charges in Congress that it would polticize government contracting, and allow the administration to target its political enemies.
Those worries hit a high point today in the House joint committee hearing, titled "Politicizing Procurement: Will President Obama's Proposal Curb Free Speech and Hurt Small Business?" The hearing was stacked with opponents of the draft EO, all of whom testified that the draft EO would, well, curb free speech and hurt small business. The lone supporter (other than the OMB rep), representing the Women's Chamber of Commerce, testified that the draft EO would increase transparency and ensure that procurement is based on "fair competition and not unscrupulous, undisclosed "pay to play" campaign donations." The administration sent OMB Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy Daniel Gordon as a compromise fter Jack Lew, the head of OMB, declined to appear (sparking threats of subpoena by the committee chairs).
At the same time, Senators Joe Lieberman, Claire McCaskill, Susan Collins, and Rob Portman sent a letter to President Obama opposing the draft EO because it would politicize procurement.
There were even some murmurings that President Obama lacked authority to issue the EO--that it wasn't sufficiently tied to federal procurement to come within executive authority.