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White House Executive Order Would Force Campaign Disclosure From Government Contractors

The DISCLOSE Act was one of the more egregious failures of the 111th Congress. Because Republicans held together and obstructed any change to campaign finance laws, Congress offered no response to the Citizens United decision, which led to an explosion in corporate fundraising. The White House was strongly behind the transparency protections of the DISCLOSE Act, but they could not convince any Republican to act against their own party’s interest and do anything that could potentially limit corporate campaign spending.

So the White House is moving to Plan B.

Several Democratic sources confirmed a document being circulated by the administration would require government contractors to disclose campaign contributions made by directors, officers, affiliates or subsidiaries to federal candidates, political party committees and “third party entities” involved in electioneering.

The document, which was first reported by the conservative Pajamas Media, represents just a small (and revised) chunk of the DISCLOSE Act, the election transparency law Democrats tried to push through Congress last fall. Under that bill, which fell one vote short of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, contractors would have been entirely prohibited from making political donations to federal candidates or parties.

“It was a ban and they are turning it into disclosure,” said Fred Wertheimer, the Founder and President of Democracy 21, a group that promotes greater donation disclosure. “It is becoming a condition of doing business with the government.”

Depending on how broadly you define “doing business with the government,” this could mean that potentially every major corporation in America would have to disclose all their political contributions in a centralized database. According to the draft order, it would apply to any spending over $5,000 from a single entity. Obviously, as an executive order, it would not have the durability of a statute, and could change from one Administration to the next. But it’s about the best available option left when you realize that Congress won’t lift a finger.

I think this would withstand a legal challenge, since the Supreme Court in its own ruling on Citizens United said that transparency would be the best antidote to the excesses of corporate campaign spending, rather than banning contributions.

Ultimately, it’s not the final solution to the problem of corporate campaign spending. But it’s the currently available solution, while constitutional amendments limiting the practice or ending corporate personhood or other long-term policies are worked on.

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David Dayen

David Dayen