President Barack Obama is working on an executive order that would require any company bidding on federal government work to list all political contributions by the firm, officers and directors, along with donations made to private groups engaged in speech related to, for example, politics and policy. This mandate would cover contributions and donations made over the previous two years.
While the reporting of some of these political contributions already is required through other government agencies, this expansive and sweeping order would impose mandates that Congress has chosen not to impose, such as in the Disclosure Act, which failed in the last Congress. In the current Congress, opposition to the proposed executive order has been swift and bipartisan.
Not only have Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate expressed outrage, so have some key Democrats.
As for the GOP, FoxNews.com reported on May 6 that in a letter to the president, “California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the No. 3 Republican in the House, said Obama’s proposed order ‘seems like a blatant attempt to intimidate, and potentially silence, certain speakers who are engaged in their constitutionally protected right to free speech.’ Twenty other Republicans signed the letter, which expresses their concern that the effect of the proposed order would be ‘stifled political speech, as potential and current federal contractors decide to limit their political speech in order to protect their livelihoods.’”
Meanwhile, on May 11, TheHill.com reported: “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.’ He added, ‘I’m not in agreement with the administration on that issue.’”
Indeed, Democrats, Republicans, those in business, and anyone else supporting free and vibrant speech in our nation should be very worried. In fact, no legitimate government responsibility comes into play here. Instead, it’s all about trying to limit and discourage the business community — most certainly including entrepreneurs and small businesses — from engaging in the political and policy debates critical to our nation and its economy.
Consider some dangerous consequences if the president signs such an executive order:
n Political activities would become part of the federal government procurement process, when in reality this should be all about which firms provide goods and services of the highest quality and at the lowest costs for taxpayers.
n Trillions of dollars spent by the federal government would become a political weapon. The ability to discriminate against those that disagree with the party and administration in power is clear.
n Given that these requirements include officers and directors of firms means that individuals’ free speech rights will be compromised and the relationship between the business and individual could be altered in an unsavory, intrusive way.
n In the end, this executive order is a clear violation of the First Amendment protection of free speech, as it seeks to alter, influence, silence and reduce such speech among individuals and enterprises in the business community.
Make no mistake, this executive order would put groups that advocate for free enterprise, including the Small Business
& Entrepreneurship Council, and their supporters at a distinct disadvantage, working to silence such individuals and groups. Of course, that’s exactly what the order is meant to achieve. This executive order deserves rigorous opposition.
Raymond Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. Reach him through the Web site at www.sbecouncil.org.