WH Working on Executive Order That Critics Say Will Stifle Political Speech

April 25, 2011 - 5:04 PM

Obama and Schumer

President Obama and Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat. (AP Photo)

Washington (CNSNews.com) –  In what the White House calls a push for transparency, a pending executive order would require companies doing business with the federal government to disclose political contributions to independent groups, but would not place the same requirement on public employee unions or federal grant recipients that typically donate to Democrats.

Entitled the “Disclosure of Political Spending By Government Contractors,” the order would implement parts of the DISCLOSE Act, which failed to get through Congress last year. The legislation sought to restrict campaign speech after the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of corporations and unions to donate to campaigns.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed Monday that work is underway on the draft order, and linked the move to President Obama’s stated commitment to transparency.

"It's fully acknowledged that there is a process underway; a draft is just that," Carney told CNSNews.com. "It could change as it makes its way through the process. But what the president is committed to is transparency, and he certainly thinks that the American taxpayer should know where his or her money is going.  So I -- this is part of the President’s commitment to transparency."

Government contractors are already required to disclose contributions to political candidates. This executive order would require the disclosure of any donations to independent groups, where conservative groups outspent liberal ones in the 2010 election.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the executive order would stifle free speech.

“Democracy is compromised when individuals and small businesses fear reprisal, or expect favor from the federal government as a result of their political associations,” McConnell said in a statement last week, after reports of the draft emerged.

“So recent press reports about an unprecedented draft Executive Order raise troubling concerns about an effort to silence or intimidate political adversaries’ speech through the government contracting system,” he said. “If true, the proposed effort would represent an outrageous and anti-democratic abuse of executive branch authority. No administration should use the federal contracting system for campaign purposes.”

The DISCLOSE Act was pushed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.), and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Announcing the bill at a Feb. 11, 2010 press conference, Schumer said that its provisions “will make them [corporations] think twice before spending unlimited sums to influence elections. The deterrent effect should not be underestimated.”

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court justices at the 2010 State of the Union address, as President Obama criticized the court’s campaign finance ruling. (Image: Network coverage screenshot)

Hans A. von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, was skeptical of Carney’s assertion that the president was merely committed to transparency.

“If transparency is the true goal, why isn’t the proposed executive order covering any outside entity that gets federal money? It only applies to government contractors, not grant recipients like Planned Parenthood,” he told CNSNews.com. “Public employee unions are also exempt from this order.”

Von Spakovsky, who was the first to report the existence of the draft executive order, on Pajamas Media last week, argued that the move would politicize the federal procurement process.

He is also troubled by the use of an executive order in this instance.

“This threatens the representational system,” he said. “The president wants to implement through the regulatory process what failed in Congress.”

The draft executive order would require government contractors to disclose:

-- “All contributions or expenditures to or on behalf of federal candidates, parties or party committees made by the bidding entity, its directors or officers, or any affiliates or subsidiaries within its control.”

-- “Any contributions made to third party entities with the intention or reasonable expectation that parties would use those contributions to make independent expenditures or electioneering communications.”

Obama has long railed against the Citizens United ruling. During his 2010 State of the Union speech he launched a verbal offensive against the Supreme Court, prompting a visible response from Justice Samuel Alito, who along with his colleagues were seated just feet from the podium.