21 Jan 2016

President Obama is seriously considering an executive order that would require companies doing business with the federal government to disclose their political contributions

 President Obama is seriously considering an executive order that would require companies doing business with the federal government to disclose their political contributions, White House officials said on Tuesday, a step long awaited by activists to reduce the influence of secretive corporate donations in elections.
The directive, known as the “dark money” executive order, would mandate that government contractors publicly report their contributions to groups that spend money to influence campaigns. Advocates inside and outside the White House believe the executive order would prompt some companies to spend less, by exposing their donations to public scrutiny.
Mr. Obama has been considering the action for more than a year, but discussions have intensified in recent weeks, according to activists and administration officials, as the president moves to deliver on unfulfilled promises in his final year in office.
Brandi Hoffine, a White House spokeswoman, declined to comment on internal deliberations, and officials said no final decisions had been made.
“While we will continue to examine additional steps we can take to reduce the corrosive influence of money in politics, only Congress can put an end to it,” Ms. Hoffine said. She noted that legislation to require companies to reveal their campaign giving, known as the Disclose Act, died in 2012 amid Republican opposition.
The idea behind the order is to expose the political activity of many of the country’s largest companies, an attempt to narrow the floodgates of corporate contributions that opened with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, which allowed companies and labor unions to give unlimited sums.
In a report last spring, Public Citizen Congress Watch estimated that the proposed directive would apply to 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies, noting that large ones including Exxon Mobil, Apple, General Motors and General Electric had federal contracts worth more than $100,000 over the previous year.
Business groups that have fiercely opposed campaign finance restrictions argue that the executive order would encroach on free speech rights. And some advocates have privately questioned whether the directive would be enforceable.
“The real goal of the disclosure proponents is to harass, intimidate and silence those with whom they disagree,” said Blair Latoff Holmes, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We continue to believe that one’s political activities should play no role in whether or not you get or keep a federal contract, and we encourage the administration to leave this bad idea right where it is.”
But outside groups that have long pressed for Mr. Obama to act on his own believe the moment is close at hand. In his State of the Union address last week, the president made a lengthy plea to “fix our politics,” specifically calling for reducing the role of money in campaigns and denying “hidden interests” the ability to bankroll elections.
The discussions are intensifying at a time when Mr. Obama has made it clear that he is looking for expansive ways to use his executive power before leaving office.
“We’ll do audacious executive action throughout the course of the year — I’m confident about that,” Denis R. McDonough, his chief of staff, told reporters the morning after Mr. Obama’s speech. He added that the president had informed his staff that the central question he would be asking himself about potential actions was, “Why not?”
“We’re going to lean pretty hard into it,” Mr. McDonough said.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been among the advocates for the move, officials and advocates said. Administration aides said that top White House officials, including David Simas, who leads Mr. Obama’s political team, and W. Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel, were weighing the move but had not yet reached a decision.
Still, proponents heard last week’s speech as a signal that a president who came to office promising to transform politics and has often called for campaign reforms — but has never used his authority to force them — was ready to act more aggressively.
“This issue of dealing with the systemic problem of money in politics is outrageously popular, and there’s no rational reason for the administration to be presiding over an approach of do-nothingness — it has been a huge disappointment,” said Lisa Gilbert, the director of Public Citizen. “We took this loud call to action in the State of the Union as a signal that they are changing course.”
Mr. Obama has “not yet done the simple thing that he can do,” Ms. Gilbert said, referring to the executive order, adding that last week’s speech was “finally an acknowledgment that this is not the legacy that he wants on this issue.”
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, spoke to Mr. Obama in person about the executive order in November and handed him a letter from 155 Democrats urging him to issue it.
“Requiring corporations to disclose their unlimited spending in our elections was the only path the misguided Citizens United Supreme Court decision left us to protect the sanctity of our democracy,” she said through a spokesman.
Around the time she met with the president, a coalition of 19 outside interest groups led by Rootstrikers, a grass-roots activist organization, launched a petition on the White House website calling on Mr. Obama to “take action to fight secret money immediately — and redeem your failed money-in-politics legacy.” It specifically called for the executive order.
“You must act now or be remembered as the president whose inaction aided the rise of secret money politics,” said the petition, which gathered more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days — the threshold for getting a White House response.
Lawmakers who have long pushed for stricter campaign finance rules said the order would build momentum for broader changes.
“It’s the easy thing that he can do,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said. “It gets at a little bit of the problem, but more to the point, it buoys everybody who’s looking at this disgraceful political mess that we have out there that is infuriating Democrats and Republicans alike with the sense that they don’t control politics anymore, and it’s all being left to the special interests.”

Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/20/us/president-obama-may-require-federal-contractors-to-list-campaign-gifts.html?_r=0

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