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U.S. Chamber Kicks off Barrage against Disclosure EO*

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Signaling the first wave of attacks on President Obama’s draft executive order (EO) requiring disclosure of political donations by potential federal contractors, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, utilizing their Astroturf group, Friends of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sent out an absurdly deceptive email alert last week calling on supporters to resist the White House’s latest transparency effort.

One corporate hack awarding another.

The Chamber and other opponents of the disclosure EO are using the disingenuous one-two punch of accusing the president – as Hans von Spakovsky, the individual who brought the leaked draft to light, claims – of acting through “executive fiat” to introduce a “pay-to-play” scheme in federal contracting.

Big business interests must be hoping the public doesn’t delve into this exceptionally flawed argument.

As we explained in our most recent issue of The Watcher, President Obama is perfectly within his constitutional and legal authority to require potential contractors to disclose their campaign contributions.

Moreover, the fantasticalness of the accusation that the president is introducing a pay-to-play scheme into federal contracting, where a contracting officer (CO) judges a potential contractor on political contributions rather than merit, would make Karl Rove blush. The effort is designed to eliminate pay-to-play, and the EO is void of any mention of COs using contribution disclosure information in contracting decisions.

But even if the president isn’t making an unprecedented power grab or installing a pay-to-play contracting scheme, doesn’t his proposed EO reek of partisanship, as Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel argues, because it fails to require “all the (liberal) entities that get billions in taxpayer dollars via federal grants and funding – unions, environmental groups, Planned Parenthood – to disclose also”?

Well, no, because the overwhelming majority of federal grants go to state and local governments, nonprofit C3s, and higher ed. organizations, which cannot engage in electioneering. In fact, over 98 percent of federal grants went to those three categories in 2007, the last full year data are available from FedSpending.org.

In addition, specifically concerning unions, as we explained in our recent Watcher piece: “like any other potential contractor, a union would have to disclose its political contributions if it bid on a federal contract.” And unions do bid on federal contracts.

No one in the business community, or those representing its interests, is willing to admit it, but “lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions,” as Scott Amey of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) describes in his post on the EO, have long had an “insidious effect” on the federal contracting process. Look no further than the recent Boeing tanker scandal for proof.

President Obama’s draft EO, if signed, will only marginally improve the process, but it will be an important first step. But because it threatens the ability of business interests to pour untold sums of anonymous money into the political process, be prepared to witness continuous blatant misrepresentations like the Chamber’s recent efforts.

* This post has been corrected to better reflect the share of federal grants disbursed to entities not permitted to electioneer.

Image by Flickr user Rep. Virginia Foxx used under a Creative Commons license.

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