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Robert Reich is wrong on contractors' political contributions

Former Clinton administration official and public policy expert Robert Reich has weighed in on the debate about whether contractors should disclose their political contributions when submitting bids for contracts. 

Not surprisingly, he fully supports the Obama administration’s effort to require such disclosure.


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Reich makes some valid points about the lack of visibility into political contributions made by companies. He uses Lockheed Martin as one of his example and states that the only information available is on the activities of Lockheed political action committee.

“We don't know how much money it gives to the Aerospace Industries Association to lobby for a bigger defense budget," Reich writes. “We don't even know how much Lockheed is giving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby against [President Barack] Obama’s proposed executive order requiring disclosure of its political activities."

“Don't we have a right to know?” he asks.

I can’t say he’s wrong on that principle, but the Obama administration’s proposal to require disclosure with a bid on a contract is wrong.

For an individual contract, what value does knowledge of a political contribution bring to the evaluation process?

A better remedy is requiring companies to file that information the same way they do for their PACs.

That kind of information should be freely available because it can be used to inform decision-making involving policy, but it is inappropriate for procurement decisions. Two questions come to my mind: What is a procurement official supposed to do with that information? How does that information contribute to a better-managed contract?

I also bristled at Reich’s recommendation that the administration ban political activities by companies receiving more than half of their revenues from the U.S. government.

This is a slippery slope. What’s next? Banning environmental groups from lobbying against a new coal-fired plant because they have an interest in seeing it not being constructed?

Let’s put disclosure in the right forum and not limit free speech by individuals or organizations.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on May 20, 2011 at 7:23 PM


Reader Comments

Thu, Jun 2, 2011

My personal contributions to a political candidate or party are legally required to be reported. However, my personal contributions to the Chamber of Commerce, to my Union, to my church, or other such organizations are NOT legally required to be reported, even though I earn 100% of my paycheck from the Federal Government. I also can contribute to any organization or cause, whether they directly support or oppose a President's position on a particular issue. A private company, made up of private citizens, using their company profits should be no different, regardless of how they obtained that profit. Their PACs should have to report (and do), but otherwise they shouldn't.

Wed, May 25, 2011 Fred the Fed (contractor)

This is real simple. Individuals contributions are disclosed publicly and very easy to search. Corporations are persons, and for the very same reasons, not to mention additional ones, their contributions should be disclosed, too. Might as well do it with proposals. Very easy to do. Negl admin. burden.

Tue, May 24, 2011 Anonymous

“We don't know how much money it gives to the Aerospace Industries Association to lobby for a bigger defense budget," Reich writes. “Don't we have a right to know?” Reich asks. No you don't have the right. The right you have as a politician is to NOT be swayed by lobbyists and do whats right for the country instead of padding your campaign coffer with lobbyist contributions. That's not only your right, it's your duty.

Mon, May 23, 2011 John W. Northern Virgina

As the CEO of a federal IT security company, I completely agree with and appreciate Mr. Wakeman's insights, especially his conclusion that this initiative would limit free speech by individuals and organizations.
Under this draft order, our employees would be required to report to us any political contributions they make. Simply put, I am not in the business of knowing who my employees support politically. And I’d like to keep it that way.
I wrote a blog post on this same topic late last week. Check it out if you’d like: Why politicize federal contract awards? http://bit.ly/jQ00MG

Mon, May 23, 2011

Why doesn't the Administration require Big Labor to report all of their political contributions, not just the PAC stuff, but the advertising they do for the Democratic Party? Why stop at half of the equation? ... Oh, that's right they give 98.9% of their contributions to the Democratic Party and other "fellow travelers." Mr. Obama wouldn't want that reveiled, would he?

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