Continetti is guest-blogging for The Post.
President Obama is weighing an executive order that would require the officers, directors and board members of companies contracting with the federal government to disclose political contributions to candidates, political action committees and independent expenditure groups. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has denounced the proposal as an attempt to restrict political speech. The executive order is — if you’ll pardon the pun — a transparent end run around the Congress, which rejected these requirements last year; the Supreme Court, which ruled against similar speech restrictions in its Citizens United decision last year; and the Federal Elections Commission, which is deadlocked.
And it’s ridiculously one-sided. The proposed regulation would affect manufacturers, defense contractors, auto companies and other businesses that make things and sell them to the government. But unions, bankers, the entertainment industry, the plaintiffs’ bar, billionaire investors (cough, Soros, cough) and progressive trust-funders could keep giving anonymously without any change. “Barbra Streisand, Spielberg, Soros — they don’t make anything,” a corporate officer with ties to major conservative donors told me today. Meanwhile, as much as liberals howl about disclosure, they are setting up anonymous 501(c)(4)s like McDonald’s franchises.
The political repercussions of the executive order would be terrible. There’d be the whiff of political reward or reprisal whenever a government contract was awarded or rejected. Think of the spoils system, this time fueled by cable television and the Internet. People would have to choose between their business interests and their political giving. And before long you’d have left-wing groups mau-mauing companies whose officers and board members give money to conservative causes.
But then, this isn’t really a right-left issue. If the executive order goes into effect, what’s to stop the next Republican president from using transparency as a political club, especially if the Obama administration sets the precedent? What a divisive, destructive idea with innumerable unforeseen consequences.
Then again, that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from President Obama.