President Barack Obama neatly summed up his political philosophy last year when he advised Latinos to “punish our enemies” and “reward our friends” on immigration issues. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., took a brave stand against that philosophy this week, announcing his opposition to a draft presidential executive order that would require any company seeking a government contract to disclose all federal political contributions by the firm’s owners, directors and managers. If Obama signs the order, he will effectively restore the partisan spoils system in federal contracting that civil service reformers struggled for decades to eradicate.
“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,” Hoyer said. “I’m not in agreement with the administration on that issue. The issue on contracting ought to be on the merits of the contractors’ application and bid and capabilities,” he added. Awarding government contracts on bidder merits rather than as a reward for partisan political activity should not be controversial. The law at 2 U.S.C. § 441c bars contractors from making contributions to federal officeholders and candidates during the negotiation and performance of a federal government contract. Obama’s proposed order would capture contributions made prior to negotiations.
What’s happening here is that, since last November’s Republican election victory, Obama has sought every possible power lever to increase his 2012 re-election chances, including invoking federal laws and regulations to stifle contributions to his political opponents. Shortly after the 2010 election, Obama’s think tank ally, the Center for American Progress, helpfully compiled a list of such power levers, including the benignly titled “Disclosure of Political Spending by Government Contractors” draft executive order that now appears close to being signed.
This proposed order is anything but benign. Not only does it require disclosure of individual contributions to partisan candidates, it also covers donations to any organization that might use the funds for “independent expenditures or electioneering communications,” otherwise known as political speech protected by the First Amendment. So all firms hoping to do business with the federal government would have to investigate the personal political activities of their principals and report them to federal bureaucrats and their politically appointed overseers (Democrats kid only themselves if they think Republicans won’t do the same thing once they get back in the White House).
Liberal groups claim that these disclosure requirements are only meant to increase transparency, not chill political speech. But if that were true, consider this: In 2010, Obama’s liberal allies, including unions, spent $95 million on independent expenditures like those funded by corporations. But unions that sign collective bargaining contracts with the federal government are exempt from the Obama order’s “disclosure” requirements. Clearly, the chill would only be felt among Obama opponents. Hoyer deserves respect for showing such political courage. Are there any other Democrats with as much guts on this issue as Maryland’s Steny Hoyer?