By Mike Lillis - 05/11/11 12:16 AM EDT
A White House plan to require federal contractors to disclose political contributions could politicize the bidding process and undermine its effectiveness, the second-ranking House Democrat warned Tuesday.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said government contracts should be awarded based solely on the reputation of the company and the substance of its bid. The issue of political contributions, he said, has no place in the mix.
He added, “I’m not in agreement with the administration on that issue.”
Hoyer’s opposition aligns him squarely with the business lobby and most Republicans, who have characterized the proposed rule as an intimidation tactic designed to discourage political contributions to opposing parties or candidates.
Behind House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a group of GOP leaders penned a letter to Obama on Friday accusing the administration of “a blatant attempt to intimidate, and potentially silence, certain speakers who are engaged in their constitutionally protected right to free speech.”
“We are very concerned that the net effect of this proposed [rule] would be stifled political speech, as potential and current federal contractors decide to limit their political speech in order to protect their livelihoods,” the Republicans wrote.
More recently, the chairmen of the House Oversight and Small Business committees have threatened to subpoena Jack Lew, head of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who declined their invitation to testify on the rule at a joint hearing scheduled for Thursday.
In a May 6 letter to Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Lew said it’s premature to testify on the proposal because it’s “still moving through the standard review and feedback process.”
The explanation didn’t sit well with Issa and Graves, who responded tersely on Monday.
“We find your unwillingness to testify perplexing,” they wrote to Lew. “It would appear that OMB’s interest in feedback on this [proposal] extends only to its own echo chamber.
“If the OMB continues to demonstrate an unwillingness to cooperate fully with the committee’s oversight function,” they added, “we will be required to consider the use of compulsory process.”
At issue are new rules — floated last month by the White House as a draft executive order — that would require companies vying for federal contracts to disclose their donations to candidates and political groups. The administration says the change — which was cheered by good-government groups — will add transparency to the bidding process.
“The president is committed to improving our federal contracting system, making it more transparent and more accountable,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said last month. “He believes that American taxpayers deserve that, and that is what he intends to pursue through this executive order.”
The White House has not yet released the final proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) complimented Hoyer for his stance.
“I’m glad to see that somebody on the other side is standing up to this blatant attempt to intimidate people into .. not contributing to causes the administration opposes,” McConnell said.
Hoyer on Tuesday said the rules would raise questions of fairness every time a business with a history of donating to one party was turned down for a contract by an administration of the other party.
“They [would] think somehow that was politically [motivated],” he said.
Critics also wonder why unions, which also negotiate contracts with the government, would be exempt from the new disclosure requirements. Hoyer on Tuesday didn’t make any distinction between unions and the business community on the issue.
“All people ought to be exempt,” he said. “It’s not a requirement now. I don’t think it ought to be a requirement.”
This story was originally posted at 12:56 p.m. and updated at 8:16 p.m.