When it comes to transparency, not everything is clear.
President Obama’s proposal that federal contractors disclose their political contributions has rankled some members of Congress, and not just along party lines. Four members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs—two Republicans, a Democrat, and an independent—penned a letter to the president on Thursday, urging him to reconsider his position on the proposed mandated disclosures.
Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote that while they share Obama’s “commitment to ensuring that the federal contracting process is not influenced by political activity or favoritism,” they also worry that requiring “businesses to disclose their political activity when making an offer risks injecting politics into the contracting process.”
With election spending reaching unprecedented levels in 2010 after the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case—which allowed corporations and unions to make direct political donations—the issue of disclosure has been a heated topic in Washington.
But the senators say the draft executive order, if enacted, would put an unnecessary burden on those tasked with overseeing federal contracts, and wouldn’t even have much of an effect. They write that federal contracting law already “precludes the consideration of political activity in evaluating contract offers,” and that under the Federal Acquisition Regulation, “the award of a contract must be based on the evaluation of quality, price, past performances,” and other merit-based factors.
Republicans on the Hill have been touting the letter as proof that there is a schism in the Democratic Party over the initiative.
“With a now bipartisan outcry against an order which would put politics before the best interest of our taxpayers, the Administration needs to provide candid answers and has an opportunity to do so at today’s hearing,” said a statement from Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Concerns that this executive order that will have a chilling effect on contractors who fear a corrupt Chicago-style spoils system where contracts are tied to partisan political affiliations are very real. President Obama would be wrong to try and ignore this clear and bipartisan opposition.”
Earlier this week, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., bucked up against the proposal, saying, “I am not in agreement with the administration on that issue.”
“I think the issue on contracting ought to be on the merits of the contractor’s application and bid and capabilities,” Hoyer said in a meeting with reporters on Tuesday. “...I think there are some serious questions as to what implications there are if somehow we consider political contributions in the context of awarding contracts.”
These comments allowed for a rare response from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
“Certainly, I am in agreement with the Democratic whip,” Cantor said this week.
Obama's proposal is also the topic of a Thursday afternoon hearing in front of the House oversight committee in which Office of Management and Budget official Daniel Gordon will testify on behalf of the administration.
Want the news first every morning? Sign up for National Journal’s Need-to-Know Memo. Short items to prepare you for the day.
DON'T MISS TODAY'S TOP STORIES