GOP senators push back on campaign contributions order

Republican senators are fighting a White House proposal that would force federal contractors to disclose political contributions.

In an April 26 letter, 27 GOP senators requested that President Obama drop a draft executive order, released last week, that would require companies bidding on agency contracts to release a list of contributions or political expenditures that total in excess of $5,000 made on behalf of federal candidates, parties or political action committees. The directive would make politics part of every contracting award, they wrote.

"We are concerned that the requirement to provide such information to every contracting agency as part of every contract proposal could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of individuals to contribute to the political causes or candidates of their choice," the letter states. "Political activity would obviously be chilled if prospective contractors have to fear that their livelihood could be threatened if the causes they support are disfavored by the administration."

According to the draft order, the disclosure would be required whenever the aggregate amount of the contributions and expenditures made by the company, its directors or officers, or any affiliates or subsidiaries within its control, exceeds $5,000 to a recipient in a given year. The rule essentially would require inquiries about contributions from individual officers that come out of their wallets and not out of corporate accounts. It would not, however, apply to public sector unions or grantees.

The order also would require contractors to disclose contributions to third-party nonprofit groups -- known as a 501(c)(4) organizations -- in which the company has the "reasonable expectation" that the funds would be used to pay for electioneering communications such as paid advertisements.

The order appears to revive and amend aspects of the 2010 DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have prohibited the funding of campaign ads by government contractors, corporations with at least a 20 percent foreign ownership and recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout funds. The senators expressed concern that the similarities would be used to circumvent Congress to implement provisions in the act.

The letter also requests information from the White House on how information collected on political contributions would be used to determine contract awards and whether political appointees would participate in the review process.

"No White House should be able to review your political party affiliation or the causes you support before deciding you are worthy of a government contract," the letter states. "And no American should have to worry about whether their political activities or support will affect their ability to get or keep a federal contract or their job."

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