Would Campaign Finance Disclosure Create Spoils System?

May 9, 2011 8:00am

ABC News' Matthew Jaffe (@jaffematt) reports:

Republicans on Capitol Hill are up in arms about an expected move by President Obama to make companies disclose their political donations if they want to bid for government contracts.

The president is expected to sign an executive order to that effect in the coming days, according to GOP sources on Capitol Hill.

The move would signal the latest round in an ongoing battle that has raged ever since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. In response to that decision, Democrats in Congress pushed the Disclose Act, a bill to impose new financial disclosure rules on political campaigns. However, even though the House last year passed the bill, Democrats in the Senate fell short in multiple efforts to send it on to the supportive White House. No Senate Republicans backed it at all. The bill would not have applied to a select group of unions and organizations such as the NRA, AARP, and the Sierra Club, an exclusion that sparked a fierce debate over the fairness of the measure.

Now the expected executive order from the White House has reignited the battle over disclosing political donations.

In a recent letter to the president, 27 Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the top GOP senator on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Susan Collins lashed out at the possible move.

Such an order, the Republicans said, "could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of individuals to contribute to the political causes or candidates of their choice."

"Political activity would obviously be chilled if prospective contractors have to fear that their livelihood could be threatened if the causes they support are disfavored by the administration," they wrote.

And they warned that such a move would create "the appearance that contract award decisions could be predicated on-or influenced by-political contributions or considerations."

McConnell, especially, has vociferously opposed the possible executive order.

“Just last year the Senate rejected a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress. Now, under the guise of ‘transparency,’ the Obama administration reportedly wants to know the political leanings of any company or small business, including those of their officers and directors, before the government decides if they’ll award them federal contracts," the Kentucky senator said late last month. "Let me be clear: No White House should be able to review your political party affiliation before deciding if you’re worthy of a government contract. And no one should have to worry about whether their political support will determine their ability to get or keep a federal contract or keep their job."

“If true, the proposed effort would represent an outrageous and anti-Democratic abuse of executive branch authority. No administration should use the federal contracting system for campaign purposes," he stated.

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