Yesterday afternoon, Rep. Darrell Issa, the founder of the Transparency Caucus, dedicated a committee hearing to smearing transparency as the enemy of democracy. President Obama is reportedly drafting an executive order that would require businesses seeking government contracts to disclose their political spending. Since Issa’s patrons in Big Business would rather cloak their machinations in secrecy, Issa called a hearing to try to reframe a provision that would protect democracy as a threat to democracy. Shortly before the hearing, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan wrote a Huffington Post piece about this.
Listening to Issa and his fellow Republicans, you’d never know that last year’s Citizens United decision undermined a century’s work of reforming our campaign finance system. You’d never know that from the congressional midterm election immediately before Citizens United and the one immediately after, spending from groups that don’t disclose their donors skyrocketed from one percent of total spending by outside groups to an incredible 47 percent. You’d never know that corporate giants were anonymously flooding the airwaves with campaign ads and drowning out the voices of everyone else.
At the hearing, Issa and his fellow Republicans repeatedly framed the executive order as injecting political considerations into federal contracting decisions. They ignored the fact that both current federal law and the proposed executive order prevent that from happening. They ignored the testimony of an OMB official who described the effective appeals process bidders have whenever they suspect they were turned down for a contract for political reasons. They ignored the fact that, as Ranking Member Elijah Cummings pointed out, if the proposed disclosure requirements inject political considerations into procurement decisions, then so do existing disclosure requirements.
Issa and his allies kept repeating that the only reason to require disclosure would be to incorporate politics into contracting decisions. The OMB official pointed out other examples where contractors submit information that cannot be used by procurement officials but which the American public has a vital interest in – such as lobbying disclosures.
Disclosure of political spending is simply not a threat to political speech, as much as Issa and his wealthy patrons want to claim otherwise. In fact, eight of the nine Justices in Citizens United voted to uphold disclosure requirements and agreed that the federal government has an important interest in providing Americans information about the sources of election-related spending. It’s not easy to get eight Justices to agree on much of anything these days, so that says a lot about just how far beyond the mainstream Issa and his corporate backers have gone.