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Republicans Attempt to Head Off Draft Disclosure Order

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Sen. Susan Collins and other Republicans unveiled their chamber's version of the legislation Thursday.

Republicans introduced legislation in the Senate and the House on Thursday that would block a draft executive order requiring contractors bidding on federal projects to disclose political contributions.

“The President’s draft order would insert politics into the federal procurement process,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins said in a statement.

The Maine Republican was joined by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in introducing the bill in their chamber, while House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) announced the House version in a separate statement.

Under the draft order, contractors and some of their high-level employees would be required to disclose contributions of more than $5,000 to federal candidates, parties, committees and third-party groups, and the disclosures would be compiled in a centralized database. The House and Senate bills would prohibit agencies from collecting information about the political spending of contractors and their employees, bar agencies from using such information in making contracting decisions, and prohibit contracting officers from accessing databases designed to track political expenditures.

The draft order has been both praised and denounced since it was leaked in mid-April. Government watchdog organizations and small-business groups have hailed the effort as a way to track campaign spending in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations, unions and other groups. But coalitions of House and Senate Republicans — and a growing number of Democrats — say it would politicize the contracting process, chill free speech and circumvent the wishes of Congress, given that the Senate rejected a measure to compel the disclosure of donations to third-party political groups.

Congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Mike Capuano (Mass.), are gathering signatures on a letter to the White House supporting the draft order that could be sent at the beginning of next week.

Although the proposed order has generated a flurry of Congressional hearings and correspondence from the Hill to the White House, the legislation introduced Thursday marked the first definitive step taken by Republicans to get in front of the draft order.

“Senator Collins’ efforts to preempt an executive order would prevent a brazen power grab,” McConnell said in the statement, which listed the support of 17 other Senators for the legislation.

Although the language in the draft order focused on disclosure and did not direct agencies to use the information when granting contracts, lawmakers have criticized the plan as a way for the White House to compile an “enemies list” disguised in the cloak of transparency.

“Government contracts are supposed to be awarded based on merit, not political support,” Graves said.

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