White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration “believes very strongly that taxpayers deserve to know” how special interests spend money in politics. Mr. Carney said taxpayers want to know “how they’re spending their money, and how … they’re spending in terms of political campaigns.”
Mr. Obama’s solution: force corporations seeking government grants and contracts to publicly disclose their political contributions.
That’s a Chicago ward heeler’s solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Some background: Remember how the activist left went bonkers last year when the Supreme Court affirmed the common-sense principle that corporations, like individuals, have free-speech rights?
In a ringing endorsement of the Bill of Rights, the court ruled that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law’s ban on independent corporate and union expenditures for a political candidate or campaign was unconstitutional.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy reminded Americans that corporations are merely aggregations of shareholding individuals. “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech,” he wrote. Specifically, the court struck down provisions of McCain-Feingold that prohibited the broadcast of any “electioneering communications” on television within 30 days of a primary election.
Justice Kennedy’s simple restatement of the nation’s founding principles enraged activists, who opposed spending money on politics with which they happened to disagree.
In a startling breach of decorum, President Obama scolded the assembled high-court justices during his 2010 State of the Union Address. Mr. Obama claimed that the court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC had “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections.”
The part about foreign corporations was untrue - Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. said so - but to correct this imaginary problem of too much political spending by the wrong folks, the White House is circulating a draft executive order that would force all corporations that seek government grants and contracts to disclose their political contributions. This presidential decree would cover both for-profit and nonprofit corporations, including labor unions.
The Obama administration argues that the order would protect the public from influence peddling and bring transparency and accountability to the contracting system. In reality it would do no such thing.
As Michael Marinaccio writes in the September issue of Capital Research Center’s Foundation Watch newsletter, this order would politicize and bureaucratize the federal procurement process like never before. Public disclosure of contributions could allow politicians to reward their corporate supporters and punish their enemies, he writes.
Not mentioned is the enormous amount of red tape the order’s reporting requirements and timetables will create. The language of the proposed executive order states that “all disclosed data shall be made publicly available in a centralized, searchable, sortable, downloadable and machine-readable format on data.gov as soon as practicable upon submission.” This requirement to have the federal government centralize reports on corporate and perhaps individual political spending data is certain to chill if not freeze political free speech.
Moreover, the Obama draft order delegates to an obscure and unelected government body the power to decide what types of contributions should be considered “political” and therefore be disclosed. How can such an order be constitutional?
Former Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chairman Brad Smith, founder of the Center for Competitive Politics, says mandating the public disclosure of contributions is sure to be abused. “It’s going to make [people] more cynical about government, and it’s going to open up new opportunities for political abuse of the contracting process.”
Last April, when the order was disclosed, 27 Republican senators wrote to the president arguing that instead of achieving “the goal of keeping politics out of the contracting process, the draft [order] would make political considerations a part of every federal contract offer.”
Critics note that the draft executive order actually does very little to expose special-interest influence. Instead, it gives power to bureaucrats to decide who is subject to the order and what spending should be considered “political.”
Former Justice Department official John Yoo and attorney David Marston of the American Enterprise Institute suggest the administration is trying to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision with “Chicago-style politics.”
The Obama order, they said, is an “unprecedented assault on the First Amendment political speech rights of Americans - thinly masked as ‘accountability,’ ‘disclosure,’ or ‘transparency.’ “
The Obama administration’s attempt to draft an executive order requiring the disclosure of political contributions by corporations seeking government contracts and grants is a backdoor attack on the First Amendment. And it’s the latest tactic in the left’s ongoing struggle to impose government control over the business community.
Terrence Scanlon is president of Capital Research Center.