The draft executive order that would force any corporation doing business with the federal government to disclose its political donations is this close to being held back, I’d gather. It’s become a large political headache for the White House, and if there’s one thing they hate, it’s political headaches. Republicans took the rare step of threatening a subpoena for OMB Director Jack Lew and Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients to testify at a Darrell Issa-led House Oversight Committee hearing on the proposal, before the White House agreed to allow OMB Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy Daniel Gordon to testify.
Issa and his fellow conservative travelers have thrown everything at this proposal: that it would hurt small business, chill free speech, politicize government contracts and maybe unleash the hounds of hell. And the Administration is getting no help from its alleged allies on the issue.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said government contracts should be awarded based solely on the reputation of the company and the substance of its bid. The issue of political contributions, he said, has no place in the mix.
“The issue of contracting ought to be on the merits of the contractor’s application and bid and capabilities,” Hoyer told reporters at the Capitol. “There are some serious questions as to what implications there are if somehow we consider political contributions in the context of awarding contracts.”
He added, “I’m not in agreement with the administration on that issue.”
Hoyer later clarified his stance, saying that he didn’t think the White House would use the disclosure to force donations away from Republicans or toward Democrats, but that he opposed the idea anyway. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), whose Fairfax County district is home to a number of government contractors, also stated opposition because the executive order could bring politics into contracting.
First of all, let’s nobody pretend that politics ALREADY doesn’t play a role in contracting. And there are literally hundreds of examples of that (I’ll choose one at random). Second of all, you could design this in such a way that the disclosure couldn’t possibly be a factor in choosing a contractor, simply by staggering the disclosure. There are all kinds of ways to base contracting on performance and efficiency. The reason to add disclosure at all is to remedy a great wrong carried out by the Supreme Court that is eating away at the heart of democracy. There are also Hatch Act violations to consider when government contractors are spending heavily on lawmakers who then in turn have the ability to steer them contracts. The corruption ALREADY exists, in other words; the least we should do is have some transparency on it.
Republicans supported this kind of transparency for years. But now, as they see how anonymous corporate advertising helped them so much in 2010, they’ve turned against it.
I just see this issue as becoming too hot to handle for the White House. They still have the opportunity to mandate disclosure from government contractors, and nobody can really stop them. But they’ll have to withstand a backlash, and that hasn’t been their strong suit.