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Obama: People Want Disclosure, Sign Executive Order

May 4, 2011

Obama: People Want Disclosure, Sign Executive Order

Statement by Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: This statement was delivered today at a press conference held by good government groups.

Does anyone in America really think it’s a stretch to suggest that corporate campaign spending might affect decisions about what the government spends money on –and to which companies it gives contracts? Isn’t that a huge part of why corporations spend money on campaigns?

Public Citizen strongly urges the Obama administration to adopt a draft executive order that would require companies that bid for government contracts to disclose their campaign spending, in order to diminish the likelihood that contracts are a payoff for political expenditures.

The American people well understand the campaign money-corruption nexus.

We are today presenting to the White House more than 22,000 petition signatures – gathered in just a week’s time – calling on the president to issue the executive order. Colleague organizations have gathered thousands of additional signatures.

The need for such action is directly traceable to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations. The decision paved the way for companies to make massive expenditures from their general treasuries to influence election outcomes, including by funneling money through front groups that do not coordinate with candidates.

Not only did Citizens United badly damage the functioning of our democracy, it invited a major uptick in “pay to play” abuses, where contractors make campaign-related expenditures to obtain contracts, or at least favorable consideration of bids. There is no question that Citizens United will facilitate more and more severe contracting corruption, in the form of “pay to play” abuses, both federally and in the states.

The pay-to-play system encourages fraud and abuses of power, prevents contracts from being awarded to businesses based on merit, wastes taxpayer dollars, and facilitates privatization and contracting out of services that otherwise could or should be provided by government agencies.

Short of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the best way to prevent pay-to-play abuses is to bar contractors and lobbyists from political expenditures. Eight states, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several local jurisdictions currently restrict government contractors from making campaign contributions to those responsible for issuing government contracts.

The president’s draft executive order would not turn back the clock on Citizens United. That’s going to take a constitutional amendment.

Nor would the president’s draft executive order prohibit contractor spending on campaigns, a far more robust remedy to the pay-for-play problem. It would merely require disclosure.

Modest though it is, the president’s executive order is nonetheless very significant. It will work to deter contractor corruption, a matter of great national importance.

Government contracting is not a niche business. The government contracts for computer services and oil delivery, health care and weapons, construction equipment and security guards, washer and dryers and housekeeping services, satellites and solar panels, trains, planes and automobiles, and much more. Disclosure of government contactors’ campaign spending will help shine a light on the contracting process and diminish the likelihood of abuse and waste of taxpayer monies.