What failed in Congress last year after threats of a Republican filibuster may become federal policy under a Political Contributions EXEC Order by President Obama.
The order would require federal contractors to reveal their political contributions for the prior two years – to candidates, to political committees, to third-party groups and to nonprofit groups like those set up by Karl Rove.
Until recently, corporations were forbidden under a law that dated to 1890 from making campaign contributions to federal candidates. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the century-old law, opening up the floodgates to corporate contributions that ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The proposed Executive Order would not change that court ruling, but would allow the public to see the flow of money that now is hidden through third-party groups, cutout funding mechanisms, and other political strategies that allow donors to hide their contributions.
For example, contributions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are not reported by the chamber or its donors, and the funds then are channeled into political spending that keeps secret the names of the original donors.
The Chamber opposes the proposed Executive Order, as does most of the Republican leadership who charge that it is a violation of free speech and designed to chill contributions.
In a political jiu-jitsu, they charge that the order will open the way for pay-to-play politics by allowing donors to opponents to be punished. It is far more likely those donors whose money, through whatever channels, helps elect officials will receive lucrative and often no-bid contracts.
By early May, it appeared that Obama was inclined to disregard the Republican objections and sign the order.
If so, such action at the federal level might spur local officials to use it as a model to open up to greater public scrutiny how local politics is bolstered by funding currently hidden from public view.