The momentum against the planned executive order from Barack Obama to force managers at government contractors to disclose political contributions to independent organizations gained momentum today as two key Democrats in the Senate joined Republicans in opposition. Joe Lieberman and Claire McCaskill, the latter of whom faces an uncertain re-election bid in 2012, signed a letter written by Rob Portman objecting to the politicization of government contracting that Obama’s EO would inevitably produce:
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, are joining Republicans who say that the order could inject politics into contracting decisions.
“We share your commitment to ensuring that the federal contracting process is not influenced by political activity or favoritism,” said a letter to Obama, which was obtained by POLITICO and also signed by Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the top Republicans on the full committee and subcommittee. Portman took the lead on writing the letter.
“However, we are concerned that requiring businesses to disclose their political activity when making an offer risks injecting politics into the contracting process.”
Rep. Darrell Issa penned a broadside against the idea this morning in The Hill, noting that opposition has become bipartisan:
There is now growing bipartisan and bicameral opposition on Capitol Hill about this unacceptable move. Republicans and Democrats alike are concerned that such disclosure requirements will unnecessarily politicize the procurement process, delay the delivery of goods and services to the federal government, and impose additional costs on an already deficit-laden federal budget.
Even more disconcerting is the apparent willingness of the administration to disregard basic constitutional protections. Rather than offering a proposal that is narrowly-tailored to a compelling government interest – the test used by the Supreme Court to uphold a government-imposed limitation on free speech – the administration wants to tie contract awards to the disclosure of a person’s political affiliations.
If authorized, the proposed executive order will mark a dramatic shift in procurement policy. Contracts could potentially be awarded on a basis other than the merits of a proposed bid and the competitiveness of the cost to U.S. taxpayers.
Politically-appointed administration officials involved in procurement decisions would, under this new regime, have ready access to the information about the party affiliations and political contributions of prospective contractors.
The risk is too high that this information c: ould be used to inject partisanship into the federal procurement system, which has been designed to promote fairness and independence for all contractors seeking to do business with the federal government.
Let’s put aside the clique of Chicago Machine politicians that currently inhabit the West Wing. Instead, pose the question this way: would Democrats have agreed to give George W. Bush this authority? Ronald Reagan? In both cases, we would have heard screaming from the Left about political payoffs and crony capitalism.
Or, even better: How would they have reacted to Richard Nixon demanding to know which political organizations key executives supported before having his administration make procurement decisions? Something tells me that they would have suspected a new use for Nixon’s enemies list, and perhaps new sources for expanding it. And they would have been right.
If we’re looking at authority that we wouldn’t give to Nixon, then we shouldn’t allow Obama or any other President to exercise it, either.
Update: Lieberman is retiring, which I had forgotten. Thanks to the commenters for reminding me.