GOP bills curb effects of donor order

Republicans in both chambers introduced legislation Thursday to counteract President Obama’s draft executive order that would have government contractors disclose their political contributions.

The legislation comes after Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) attached an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would block the draft order. That provision passed 261-163 in the House on Wednesday night, with 26 Democrats voting in favor.

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In an interview with The Hill, Cole said he hopes the White House backs off on the proposal.

“I am hoping they’re having second thoughts,” Cole said. “This is the executive branch trying to legislate and use a very powerful weapon to do it. And not just legislate, but it is the executive branch trying to intimidate, in my opinion.”

Cole introduced separate legislation Thursday with Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.) that takes aim at the draft order. That was matched by legislation introduced in the Senate by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

The bills are similar to Cole’s amendment to the defense authorization measure. That provision prohibits federal agencies from collecting political information from government contractors as a condition for receiving a government contract.

Though his amendment passed, Cole said the separate legislation was introduced to ensure that the issue continues to gain attention and that it does not get lost in the process of passing the defense authorization bill.

“This is one of those things you attack from as many angles and avenues as you possibly can, because it is so important,” Cole said. “This will get less scrutiny in that process, and it’s a lot easier for Democrats in the Senate to avoid or to kill. A bill is a big statement.”

With the Senate under Democratic control, Cole’s amendment to the defense authorization bill has a tough road ahead.

“As is usually the case, the Senate will take up its own bill,” said Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), when asked whether Cole’s amendment would be considered as part of the defense measure.

Campaign finance watchdogs denounced Cole’s amendment, saying it was a strike against transparency.

“This is a continuation of abandonment of campaign finance disclosure by House Republicans, which began last year,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.

Wertheimer was referring to the Disclose Act — legislation that would have forced outside political groups to disclose their donors.

Increasing campaign finance disclosure used to have “a bipartisan consensus,” according to Wertheimer, but the Disclose Act passed the House with little GOP support and then stalled in the Senate.

Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.), who co-sponsored the Disclose Act last year, was the only Republican to vote against Cole’s amendment Wednesday. 

Cole said he hopes to secure Democratic co-sponsors of his new legislation from the 26 members who voted for his amendment Wednesday.

“If George Bush had done something like this — and you have to remember that we were savaged by third-party giving in 2006 and 2008 — Democrats would have been screaming to high heaven, and I must say, legitimately so,” Cole said. “To his credit, he didn’t do anything like this. He never proposed anything like this.”

Opposition to the draft order has grown over the past several weeks.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a key-vote letter to members Wednesday in support of Cole’s amendment. Several other large business groups supported the amendment. The Chamber also supports the separate legislation introduced Thursday.

House Republicans are planning to keep up the pressure on the administration over the draft order. Following a joint hearing held by the House Small Business and Oversight and Government Reform committees earlier this month, the House Administration Committee has scheduled a hearing next week to discuss the draft order.

Wertheimer dismissed the opposition to the draft order as “Washington-based.” More than 30 public interest groups have written a letter to Obama in support of the plan, which has also been backed by the Main Street Alliance, a small-business coalition.

Wertheimer said the White House needs to move on the draft order now.

“The fact is, if the White House wants this executive order, it is time to move on it,” Wertheimer said.

The draft order comes after outside groups spent millions of dollars last election on campaign ads without disclosing their donors. The flood of election money came after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January 2010, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds on electioneering activities.

The White House got behind the Disclose Act in response. The bill would have increased campaign finance disclosure, but got stuck in the Senate last year.