Former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold’s Political Action Committee this week sent an e-mail blast to members soliciting $5 donations to place ads intended to “shame” three of Feingold’s former Democratic colleagues because they disagree with him about one aspect of campaign finance.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have all expressed disapproval of President Barack Obama’s recent draft executive order to force would-be government contractors to disclose political contributions to be eligible for government business. Feingold just can’t have that.
“This culture of corporate influence and corruption is precisely what we as Progressives United want to change,” Feingold wrote in a Tuesday fundraising e-mail sent by his PAC. “So we’ve decided to take on those legislators who are unwilling to stand up to corporate power, and we’re naming names.”
Feingold launched Progressives United in February with the goal of holding elected officials on both sides of the aisle accountable, particularly over campaign finance rules and the fallout from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
But it’s not a question of “corporate influence and corruption.” It’s a question of free speech.
Ultimately, of course, the executive order pertains to the prerogative of corporations to engage in free speech in the form of political donations. But on that, the courts have already ruled. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court upheld the right of corporations to engage in political speech — including the funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections.
Congress has weighed in on the issue, as well, failing last year to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would have reversed the Citizens United decision.
If President Obama decides to issue the executive order, he’ll be acting unilaterally. Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky put it this way: “It really is amazing — they lost in the Supreme Court, they lost in Congress, they lost at the FEC, so now the president is just going to do it by edict.”
It’s also a practical matter. Disclosure requirements would politicize what should be a straightforward contracting process. The government should contract with whatever company offers the highest value for the lowest price — period. What political donations those companies have made in the past should be irrelevant.
McCaskill, Hoyer and Lieberman were right to say the draft EO might hike the price of contract work for taxpayers. Of course, Feingold, as the architect of comprehensive campaign finance reform, would naturally approve of the president’s unilateral edict to limit political speech — but, still, shame on him for making this so personal.