If ever there was a group that might be predisposed to try to influence the actions of our elected officials, it would be those whose livelihoods depend on getting business from the government. That is likely why President Obama may require federal contractors, and would-be federal contractors (including their directors, officers and subsidiaries) to disclose their campaign contributions to federal candidates, political party committees and certain third party groups that fund ads attacking or supporting federal candidates. In light of recent Supreme Court decisions like the now infamous Citizens United v. FEC, we have seen the proliferation of spending by government contractors and other groups, spending which can go largely undisclosed.
There are always downsides to disclosure, it might chill some speech and it can present administrative burdens. Having said that, particularly when it comes to government contractors, the benefits of disclosure outweigh the detriments. It is useful for the press, and the public, to know which individuals or groups trying to get business from the government are filling campaign coffers. Such information could, for instance, give rise to or put to rest questions as to why certain contractors are awarded government contracts.
Disclosure is an incremental step and treads a middle ground between a system of no regulations that allows for anonymous spending and set of laws that would prohibit contractors and would-be contractors from giving donations. A bill circulated in Congress last year would have taken that second route and banned certain contractors from giving campaign donations.
While there is buzz about whether President Obama's potential move in favor of more disclosure is politically motivated, perhaps the story behind the story here is how this law would be accomplished -- not by legislation, but by executive order. Why? President Obama and many Congressional Democrats attempted to implement these disclosure reforms via the legislative route, but to no avail. Finding no success in the legislative process, President Obama may go it alone.
As important as it is for the public to receive information regarding campaign contributions by federal contractors, it is worth at least debating the propriety of President Obama's method for implementing this reform.