Lobbyist: Forcing contractors to disclose donations injects politics into policy

A draft executive order from the White House that would force government contractors to disclose their political contributions is drawing consternation from K Street. 

Lobbyist sees the latest move by the Obama administration as another attempt to limit their influence in Washington, and it follows a series of policies signed off by the president that have targeted them.

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Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists, told The Hill that the draft order that has been circulated around Washington would be “bad public policy.”

“This is really bad public policy to be asking people to state what contributions they have made to candidates,” Marlowe said. “This is injecting politics into a process that should not involve politics.”

The lobbyist group released a statement Friday condemning the draft order, which followed similar statements of opposition from K Street powerhouses like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.

If implemented, the order would have a company bidding for a federal contract disclose their contributions to parties and candidates as well as donations to “third party entities” that spend their funds on “independent expenditures and electioneering communications,” according to a copy of the draft order obtained by The Hill.

The draft order seems geared toward non-profit groups that spent vast sums campaigning in the last election without disclosing their donors. Contributions to parties and candidates are already covered by Federal Election Commission rules, but donations to non-profit groups are not. 

The draft order is similar to the Disclose Act, legislation that would have required donor disclosure that stalled in the Senate after being passed by the House in the last Congress.

Marlowe, who is also head of lobby firm Marlowe & Co., said the order would affect lobbyists since many work for government contractors or for trade groups that have government contractors as members. He said the order would hurt business and stifle free speech.

“It affects lobbyists. It obviously is not directed at us, but it is part of a pattern,” Marlowe said. “We can't just sit back and say it is someone else's problem.” 

The pattern Marlowe is referring to includes an early executive order by Obama designed to keep lobbyists out of the administration; restricting lobbying on the stimulus package; and banning lobbyists from federal advisory committees.

The president has not been shy of using harsh rhetoric against K Street. Obama has often blamed lobbyists for stalling legislation that he supports.

“Our fear is this is only going to increase as Election Day draws closer,” Marlowe said. “The issue is it is not just words. It's 'What's next?' I don't want to know.”

Marlowe said he is requesting a meeting with White House officials to discuss the draft order and also plans to talk with lawmakers in both parties about it.

A White House official defended the executive order, saying the president wants to encourage transparency and accountability.

“The President is committed to an overhaul of government contracting policies to promote accountability, transparency and competition. Taxpayers deserve to feel confident that federal contracting decisions are based on merit alone and are not influenced by political favoritism,” the official said. “That said, this document is a draft [executive order] that is still moving through the standard review and feedback process. It is not a final document. But the President is committed to bringing more accountability and transparency to a federal contracting system that has long needed reform.”

The draft order has won support from campaign finance reform groups who believe it would help create transparency in the federal contracting process.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said the draft order is designed to counter the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year, which allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds on electioneering activities. 

“With the Citizens United decision, the potential of pay-to-play is phenomenal,” Holman said. “With this order, it opens up the process to the press and the public and allows us to scrutinize the process.”

Holman said he is worried that the White House might back off of the draft order in the wake of business opposition. To show support for the draft order, he is planning a press conference on Capitol Hill next week and is beginning to gather signatures for a supportive letter.

“We want to show the president that his executive order has widespread and broad support,” Holman said. “He has got a whole lot of support for this executive order.”