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Members Weigh In on Draft Disclosure Order

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Rep. Mike Capuano is gathering signatures on a letter supporting President Barack Obama’s proposed executive order requiring contractors to disclose political donations.

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Congressional Democrats are gathering signatures this week on a letter to the White House supporting a draft executive order that would compel government contractors to disclose their political spending.

The letter by Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), which could be sent as early as this week, appears to be the first formal move by lawmakers to support the plan in the wake of bipartisan opposition to the proposal. The draft executive order would require contractors bidding on federal projects to disclose contributions of more than $5,000 made to federal candidates, parties, committees and third-party groups.

A flurry of letters to the White House have alternatively praised and denounced the proposed executive order since a draft leaked in mid-April. Coalitions of House and Senate Republicans and a growing number of Democrats have publicly criticized the proposed order as politicizing the contracting process, chilling free speech and circumventing the wishes of Congress, given that the Senate has already rejected a measure requiring disclosure of donations to third-party political groups.

Government watchdog organizations and a group of small businesses have lauded the effort as a way to track the explosion of campaign spending in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations, unions and other groups.

Privately, both sides of the debate are worried. Republicans report their deeper concern is that implementation of the draft order could depress contributions to the third-party groups considered pivotal to the GOP's success in 2010 and vital to the party's political prospects in 2012. Government watchdog groups wonder whether the time lapse since the draft executive order was leaked means the plan has been derailed.

"The Obama administration has not acted very aggressively in terms of any of the statements that have come out about money in politics generally," the leader of one group said. "Because of the controversy, I'm concerned he is going to back down again."

An April 13 draft of the proposed executive order on "disclosure of political spending by government contractors" stated that "to ensure an efficient and economical procurement process, every contracting department and agency shall require all entities submitting offers for federal contracts to disclose certain political contributions and expenditures that they have made within the last two years." The draft also directed that "all disclosed data shall be made publicly available in a centralized, searchable, sortable, downloadable and machine readable format on data.gov."

Though many government contractors are already required to report to the Federal Election Commission certain kinds of political spending, including direct payments to candidates, campaigns and parties, the order would also compel the disclosure of money given to third-party groups with the "reasonable expectation that parties would use those contributions to make independent expenditures or electioneering communications."

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