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Requiring Government Contractors to Disclose Political Spending

Dark money spend­ing has risen dramat­ic­ally in recent elec­tions. But it’s espe­cially concern­ing coming from federal contract­ors, since the billions of dollars at stake open glar­ing windows for corrup­tion, and since contract­ors do everything from supply our milit­ary, to run our veter­ans’ care, to test air and water qual­ity. The Pres­id­ent can take a crit­ical step by issu­ing an exec­ut­ive order that mandates govern­ment contract­ors disclose their polit­ical spend­ing.

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Who pays for Amer­ican elec­tions? Too often it is no longer possible to know. In signi­fic­ant part as a result of Citizens United and related U.S. Supreme Court decisions, shad­owy groups can collect and spend vast sums on polit­ical advert­ise­ments without reveal­ing their contrib­ut­ors. This is “dark money,” and since Citizens United in 2010, groups have spent well over $600 million of it in federal elec­tions,  much of it concen­trated in a hand­ful of compet­it­ive races.

In his most recent State of the Union address, Pres­id­ent Barack Obama spoke out against this wave of dark money. He was right to do so. But it is time for more than words. The Pres­id­ent has the power and author­ity to imme­di­ately require disclos­ure of polit­ical spend­ing by govern­ment contract­ors. We urge him to act now.

Amer­ic­ans deserve to know who is trying to influ­ence them with polit­ical advert­ise­ments, and what those advert­isers want from the govern­ment. Polit­ical spend­ing by a veter­ans’ group to elect a candid­ate, for instance, may signal some­thing differ­ent than spend­ing by a major defense contractor. Without know­ing who is behind efforts to sway them, voters cannot make truly informed decisions, and we lose one of the last remain­ing checks on corrup­tion by special interests.

The good news is the Pres­id­ent can take a crit­ical step to address this prob­lem — without the cooper­a­tion of a Congress that has shown itself unable and unwill­ing to do so — by issu­ing an Exec­ut­ive Order to require govern­ment contract­ors to disclose all of their campaign contri­bu­tions.

Such disclos­ure would not bring all dark money to light, but it would expose a type of dark money that should be espe­cially troub­ling: campaign contri­bu­tions that could have been given to influ­ence a contract awar­ded by the govern­ment. The federal govern­ment spends hundreds of billions of dollars on such contracts every year. Disclos­ure would protect the integ­rity of the contract award process, and provide the public with confid­ence that taxpayer money is not being misused to reward big dona­tions.

Moreover, we know that govern­ment contract­ors, their affil­i­ates, and prin­cipals, are big contrib­ut­ors of disclosed money;  there is every reason to believe a signi­fic­ant portion of the dark money that has entered our polit­ics in recent years could be from them as well. Shin­ing light on this spend­ing will make our demo­cracy as a whole more trans­par­ent — exactly what the Pres­id­ent says he wants.

Requir­ing Govern­ment Contract­ors to Disclose Polit­ical Spend­ing