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March 2, 2015

Groups to Obama: Act Now to Curb Pay-to-Play

More Than 50 Organizations Urge President to Require Government Contractors to Disclose Political Spending

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Saying that President Barack Obama can singlehandedly curb the pernicious influence of money in politics, more than 50 organizations today called on the him to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.

“We’re now living in a Wild West campaign spending world,” the groups wrote in a letter (PDF). “[I]t is imperative that you act. There is no single solution to the problem of Big Money dominance. In fact, there are many desperately needed solutions. Today, we urge you to act on one option immediately – tackling the issue of corruption in government contracting.”

While federal and state laws generally bar action to reward or penalize government contractors based on their political expenditures, the public perception that companies and executives who provide the most generous campaign financial support get special treatment has been validated too often by scandal, the groups said.

The groups range from the Sierra Club, NAACP and Government Accountability Project to NorthStar Asset Management, Communications Workers of America and 99 Rise.

An executive order shedding light on political spending by contractors would attack the perception and reality of such “pay-to-play” arrangements. Such an order should: 1) require that all federal contractors disclose their political spending and that of senior management and affiliated political action committees after contracts have been awarded; and 2) require federal contractors to affirmatively certify that they are in compliance with the federal ban on direct or indirect political contributions.

Such transparency in government contracting already exists in states; in response to numerous contracting scandals, more than a dozen states have imposed campaign finance disclosure requirements on government contractors.

“The fact that corporations that receive government contracts can secretly funnel untold sums to help elect the same lawmakers who are responsible for awarding those same government contracts is a scandal,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Public Citizen is coordinating the drive to push for an executive order.

“The president declared in his latest State of the Union address that a better politics is one in which we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and he should act on those words,” she added. “The president should shine a light on contractor political spending and begin to establish that better system now.”

The request for this executive order comes five years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations could spend unlimited sums to influence elections, thereby unleashing a torrent of election spending by corporations and the wealthy. Much money is “dark” – funneled through trade associations and other groups that don’t have to disclose the identities of their donors.

“We the People desperately need your leadership to preserve our democracy,” the groups wrote. "Please act now."

Read the letter (PDF) and see the complete list of signers.


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