Republican leaders blast disclosure order as 'blatant' assault on free speech

Republican leaders in the House are urging President Obama to nix an executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose their political contributions.

In a letter sent to Obama on Friday, 21 Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), called the proposed executive order “a blatant attempt to intimidate, and potentially silence, certain speakers who are engaged in their constitutionally protected right to free speech.”

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If implemented, the executive order would require companies bidding for federal contracts to disclose their contributions to parties and candidates, as well as donations to third-party entities that spend funds on “independent expenditures and electioneering communications,” according to a copy of the draft order.

The draft order is similar to the Disclose Act that passed the House but stalled in the Senate in the last Congress. That legislation would have mandated the disclosure of political donations to nonprofit groups. 

Another signee on the GOP letter, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), called the proposed executive order a “brazen attempt to skirt the legislative process and force partisan policies rejected by Congress last year.”

“This biased approach to selective free speech does not pass muster and should be abandoned,” Lungren said in a statement. “Instead of looking for regulatory solutions to his party’s campaign problems, the President should focus on the mounting problems plaguing individuals and American companies growing increasingly frustrated with Washington.”

House Republican leaders and committee chairmen, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), expressed “grave constitutional concerns” about the draft executive order in their May 6 letter to Obama.

“We are very concerned that the net effect of this proposed EO would be stifled political speech, as potential and current federal contractors decide to limit their political speech in order to protect their livelihoods,” according to the letter. “In the interest of free speech and the liberties protected by the First Amendment, we strongly encourage your administration not to issue the proposed executive order.”

The cohort of Republican members is not the only group to speak out against the draft order.

Several lobbyist groups, including the American League of Lobbyists, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, have condemned the order as an attempt to limit their influence in Washington.

Meanwhile, ethics watchdogs are urging Obama to expediently sign the executive order, which would provide greater transparency in government contractor contributions to outside groups.

The Federal Election Commission discloses to the public contributions to parties and candidates, but not donations to nonprofit groups active in politics, which spent millions campaigning in the last election.