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Listing contractor donations brews bipartisan opposition

‘Risk too high’ for political role in hiring process

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A growing number of lawmakers from both parties is pushing back against a White House bid to force prospective federal contractors to disclose their political donations, arguing that it could stifle free speech.

Saying it smacked of "Chicago hardball politics," Rep. Darrell Issa led a Capitol Hill grilling of White House procurement official Daniel I. Gordon on Thursday about the president's proposed executive order. Many provisions of the so-called Disclose Act, which failed in 2010, would become law by fiat.

"The risk that politics could play a roll in the outcome of contracting and award decisions [if the plan were enacted] is too high," said Mr. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Mr. Gordon, administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, declined to comment specifically on the proposed executive order because it is only in draft form. But he said the administration is "100 percent committed to a merit-based contracting process that meets the highest standards of integrity and transparency."

Political contributions by law aren't taken into consideration when the federal government awards contracts, and Mr. Gordon said that would remain the case.

"There simply is no place for politics in federal acquisition," he said.

Rep. Sam Graves, chairman of the Small Business Committee, questioned the logic of requesting information on political donations during the bidding process if it wasn't going to be used.

"Why the administration would want that information ahead of time disturbs me in a big way," the Missouri Republican said.

But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the oversight committee, said he disagreed that disclosing political donations would harm the bidding process, saying the public has a right to know "what's going on with these contributions."

"I've been a member of this committee for 15 years, and I never thought I'd see the day when our committee would view transparency as the enemy," he said.

The proposed executive order follows a failed attempt last year by Democrats to push through the Disclose Act, which would have imposed strict disclosure requirements on campaign donations.

The failed legislation was a direct response to the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down most limits on corporate and union spending in elections on the grounds that they violated First Amendment guarantees of free speech.

Also Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators sent the president a letter expressing concern that the proposed executive order "creates the appearance that this type of information could become a factor in the award of federal contracts."

The letter, spearheaded by Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, who served as Office of Management and Budget director during a portion of the George W. Bush administration, also was signed by Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, on Tuesday came out against the Obama proposal, saying that he was "not in agreement with the administration on this."

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