Obama Should Require Government Contractors to Disclose Political Spending

April 6, 2015

EDITORIAL BOARD ALERT

Obama Should Require Government Contractors to Disclose Political Spending

Activists Delivered More Than Half a Million Signatures to White House; Events in 30 States Call for Executive Order to End Pay-to-Play

One of the damaging results of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United is the surge of dark money – funneled by corporations through trade associations and other groups that do not have to disclose their donors. Dark money spending is particularly insidious when government contractors do it, because they are helping the campaigns of those who stand to help them win more contracts.

But President Barack Obama can solve this problem with the stroke of a pen. He can – and should – issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.

On April 2, Public Citizen and other groups rallied outside the White House and brought more than 550,000 signatures to be delivered to President Obama calling on him to issue such an order. In addition, activists in 30 states held events calling for an executive order. April 2 marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which further facilitated unprecedented spending in elections by the super-wealthy.

Events ranged from a rally at a street festival in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a demonstration on a pier filled with beachgoers in Clearwater, Florida, to a peaceful vigil in Leesburg, Virginia, to student-led protests on California and Minnesota college campuses, to events featuring everyone from members of Congress to Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s.

As the White House considers an executive order, we urge you to join the hundreds of thousands of citizens who are demanding an end to dark money spending and call on President Obama to require government contractors to disclose political spending.

Obama himself noted in his most recent State of the Union address that money in politics is increasingly a problem that must be addressed.

The support for an executive order shows that Americans are fed up with the current system, in which corporations that bid for government contracts do not have to disclose their campaign spending. This has led to a corrupt pay-to-play environment where government contractors can secretly funnel untold sums to help elect the very same lawmakers who are responsible for awarding government contracts.

A March analysis conducted by Public Citizen found that just 27 percent of the 15 largest publicly traded federal contractors fully disclose the details of contributions they make to nonprofit groups and trade associations that could be used for electioneering expenditures. These contractors collectively held $129.1 billion in federal contracts in fiscal year 2013.

Additionally, a recent report released by the Brennan Center lays out how and why President Obama should mandate disclosure of political spending by government contractors. The analysis makes the case that an executive order from the president could ensure taxpayers are getting the best value for their dollars and head off any potential improprieties that could create opportunities for corruption.

The grassroots coalition encouraging Obama to issue the executive order is diverse, consisting of more than 50 organizations ranging from labor unions, religious groups, environmentalists, civil rights leaders, transparency advocates and campaign finance reformers.

 Below are comments from an array of organizations that participated in the April 2 event at the White House:

“An executive order would be a real start toward a more completely transparent political system. It would help the public to feel confident in our elected representatives and head off further perceptions of pay-to-play corruption.”
-Lisa Gilbert, director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

“The fact that money plays an outsized role in our political system is no secret, but President Obama can sign an executive order to make our system just a little bit better – by requiring corporations that receive money from the federal government to disclose who they are financially supporting in Congress. The NAACP, a founding member of the Democracy Initiative, wholeheartedly supports this action and is committed to a political system that enables us to elect better representatives, enact better public policy and achieve a better, more representative government.”
-Greg Moore, executive director, NAACP National Voter Fund

“Americans deserve to know which corporations are trying to buy political influence. We deserve to be able to follow the money and call out corporations when they try to rig the system in their favor. President Obama, please hear the voices of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are asking you to act.”
-Diallo Brooks, director of outreach and partner engagement, People For the American Way

“Fossil fuel companies like Chevron are taking millions in taxpayer-backed federal contracts, and then turning around and secretively spending millions more to elect politicians who will let them pollute with impunity. By signing an executive order that brings more transparency to our political system, President Obama can take a huge step forward in breaking big oil’s stranglehold on our government and work toward protecting our democracy and our environment at the same time.”
-Courtney Hight, director, Sierra Club’s Democracy Program

“It is vital that the public sees where UPS, FedEx and Pitney Bowes – all with a hand in the government contracting till – are sending their corporate cash. We demand to know whose campaigns they are funding as they seek to weaken the public good, the public Postal Service. That will go a long way toward helping us to hold our elected representatives accountable.”
– Mark Dimondstein, president, American Postal Workers Union

“Voters are rightly frustrated and disenchanted by the corrupting influence of money in America’s political system, and it is well past time to increase transparency and accountability in political spending. By requiring that taxpayer-funded government contractors disclose all forms of political spending, taxpayers and businesses alike can be assured that federal contracts are being awarded solely based on merit rather than by wielding financial leverage.” 
– Michele Jawando, vice president of legal progress, Center for American Progress

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