Democrats on the House Oversight Committee were denied the ability to add a witness to a panel on the controversial proposed executive order to force government contractors to disclose political spending. The Democrats wanted Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a supporter of the executive order, to testify. Committee chair Darrell Issa denied the request, instead stocking the panel with opponents of the plan and one mid-level staffer in the White House Office of Manangement and Budget to defend the as-yet unfinished plan. Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Daniel Gordon said even before the meeting that he would not discuss specifics, so the panel has a range of opinion between opposition and what amounts to no comment.
At least Issa is being consistent: he doesn’t want transparency in campaign finance, and he doesn’t want transparency in who should speak about campaign finance.
Wertheimer, who planned to speak on behalf of 34 organizations supporting the executive order, provided written testimony to the committee anyway, including this bit:
The Supreme Court clearly and unequivocally found in Citizens United that campaign finance disclosure laws were constitutional and necessary for the new campaign finance activities permitted by the Court’s decision. The draft Executive Order would provide such information to citizens and taxpayers whose funds are being spent on government contracts and who have a basic right to know this information.
The Democrats who have been wary to sign on to the proposed executive order almost all come from areas around the Beltway, which are rich with government contractors. But Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee and representing a district in Baltimore, strongly supports the order. Cummings penned an op-ed on the subject today.
It used to be that transparency was a solution, not a problem. But today, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is holding a hearing stacked with witnesses representing defense and aerospace contractors who oppose additional disclosure.
Chairman Issa, who is also the co-chair of the Congressional Transparency Caucus, now suggests that more transparency is dangerous. In desperate rhetoric, he warns that President Obama secretly wants to use this new information to create a “Nixonian type enemies list.”
In other words, disclosing campaign contributions could allow people in power to misuse the information to retaliate against those who do not share their politics.
The problem with this logic is that all campaign disclosures would be bad, not just new ones.
The political pressure from contractor defenders among Democrats and pretty much the entire Republican Party make it unlikely that the Obama Administration will go forward with the measure, in my opinion. Republicans have successfully framed a disclosure order as an attack on business.
UPDATE: It goes without saying that you need to follow the money on this. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, conservative third-party groups, funded by the type of undisclosed corporate money that would be targeted in this executive order, spent at least $16.3 million specifically for Republican members of both the House Oversight and Small Business Committees, which are both hearing testimony on this. This includes $7.2 million from the American Action Network, $2.1 million from Americans for Job Security and $1.8 million from the US Chamber of Commerce. $2.8 million went to Oversight Committee members Pat Meehan (R-PA) and Tim Walberg (R-MI) alone.