So says Charles Kadlec at Forbes, who should know. Kadlec found out first-hand during Richard Nixon’s imposition of wage and price controls in the 1970s, when businessmen refused to go on the record out of fear that the President would put them out of business. Kadlec sees the threat of an executive order forcing senior management at government contractors to confess all of their political donations — including, for the first time, donations to independent organizations — as a means to create another Presidential “enemies list”:
President Barack Obama is reportedly about to sign an executive order that would vastly expand the power of his administration to coerce and intimidate the private sector into submission while restricting the ability of his opponents to engage in political activities.
The order would require any company bidding for a government contract, its political action committee – and its senior officers—to provide in a convenient single report a list of all of their contributions to political parties and candidates for the past two years. These disclosures currently are required, but made in various reports to different government agencies. In addition, for the first time ever, companies and individuals would be required to report donations to “third party entities” including membership dues and charitable donations made to organizations that may engage in political speech in addition to their other activities.
“This information could easily be used to form a Nixonian enemies list on steroids,” explains Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Politics.
Similar disclosure requirements were in a bill that last year’s Democratic Senate was unwilling to pass. By signing the order, President Obama would override the democratic process and rule, instead, by decree.
Kadlec isn’t alone in those concerns. Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee, asked OMB Director Jack Lew to provide some answers to the panel on exactly what Obama intends to do with the information. When Lew declined to appear, Issa and Small Business Committee chair Sam Graves threatened to start issuing subpoenas to White House staff:
Republican Reps. Darrell Issa and Sam Graves are signaling their intent to subpoena a top Obama administration official to testify about a controversial White House proposal that conservatives allege is an attempt to intimidate administration critics.
White House budget director Jack Lew, in a Friday letter, declined a request from Issa and Graves to testify at a Thursday joint hearing of their committees on a draft presidential order that would require companies seeking government contracts to disclose contributions.
“Unfortunately, because this hearing concerns a draft presidential executive order that is still moving through the standard review and feedback process, we will be unable to testify,” wrote Lew, who heads the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Issa (R-Calif.) and Graves (R-Mo.) responded Monday with a sharply critical letter, concluding, “If the OMB continues to demonstrate an unwillingness to cooperate fully with the Committee’s oversight function, we will be required to consider the use of compulsory process.”
The White House will almost certainly claim executive privilege to block the enforcement of the subpoenas, but that’s only going to apply while the EO is still under consideration. Once Obama signs it, Congress will have a right to oversee the enforcement, including and especially how Obama intends to use the data. Executive privilege only relates to advice given to the President, not the operations of the executive branch.
Be sure to read Kadlec’s entire essay. His point about setting precedents for future presidencies is especially apt.
Update: Steny Hoyer isn’t too fond of the idea, either:
A White House plan to require federal contractors to disclose political contributions could politicize the bidding process and undermine its integrity, 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 process.
“The issue of contracting ought to be on the merits of the contractor’s application and bid and capabilities,” Hoyer told reporters at the Capitol. “There are some serious questions as to what implications there are if somehow we consider political contributions in the context of awarding contracts.”