It’s time federal contractors took off their masks.
That’s why this week people in some 50 cities nationwide — including New Orleans — rallied to urge President Obama to issue an executive order that requires government contractors to disclose their political spending.
The timing was symbolic. April marks the first anniversary of McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that, building on the disastrous Citizens United ruling in 2010, further floods the election system with unprecedented sums of money from corporations and the super wealthy, putting our democracy up for sale.
Call it a “donation;” call it a “bribe” — money talks, whether it’s handed directly to a candidate or passed to the candidate by the joint fundraising committees that are flourishing in the wake of the McCutcheon ruling.
The United States is devolving into a two-party system controlled by corporations and very wealthy individuals who, by law, are permitted to donate vast sums of money to politicians in ways that obscure the donors’ identities.
The most obscene aspect of these practices comes when the donated money is skimmed from a government subsidy or tax exemption. The upshot is a closed loop in which taxpayer money flows in and out of politicians pockets and back to the financial elites — “the one percent.”
Money stove-piped to our economic overlords is money lost to urgently needed government programs for education, health care and our crumbling infrastructure.
With this current system of pay-to-play politics, is it any wonder that voter apathy is growing and citizens feel shut out of the democratic process?
An executive order from Obama would not end or limit donations, but it would shine light on a corrupting cash nexus, a goal shared by the American Anti-Corruption Act. The order would make it possible for citizens to see which elected officials are getting the greatest contributions from contractors seeking government business, be they corporate giants or smaller firms and lobbying groups.
*Right now, provisions in election law can make it difficult or impossible to know which contractors are funneling money to the super PACs and joint fundraising committees that use donations to fuel misleading attack campaigns — groups such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, which has figured prominently in efforts to stop Medicaid expansion and other life-saving measures in Louisiana. A key problem is that, while super PACs and fundraising committees are expected to report donations on a quarterly basis, the organizations feeding their coffers can be entities that need not reveal the groups of individuals or corporations behind the money they have bundled together.
Disclosure would also show who is behind campaigns to deny climate change, to support the prison-industrial complex, and to block reforms aimed at curtailing the reckless practices on Wall Street that recently upended the global economy and very well may do so again.
The executive order we seek is subject to presidential fine-tuning but should have the following characteristics:
- It would apply to all contracts of $5 million or more and to aggregated donations of $10,000 or more from directors, officers and/or any employee of the corporation or its subsidiaries.
- It would require that the head of the corporation and its subsidiaries attest that all donations, including dues to agencies or associations with a history of electioneering, are fully disclosed.
- To remain compliant with federal law, it would mandate disclosure after the contract is awarded.
- It would archive all data in a searchable, downloadable format on the data.gov website.
Three states — Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut — already have implemented similar requirements that could serve as a template for a nationwide order.
By following the money and then matching it against the voting records of elected officials, it becomes possible to see whether, in effect, a vote was sold.
Very simply, democracy doesn’t work when our representatives don’t represent us.
The New Orleans Anti-Corruption Coalition [NOACC] rallied on April 1 at 600 Camp St., across from Lafayette Square, to tell the president that New Orleans residents want an executive order.
NOACC is a grassroots organization dedicated to reducing political corruption through campaign finance reform and increasing greater ethics restrictions in the relationship between politicians & lobbyists at the local, state and federal level. With a website pending, we can be followed on Facebook (New Orleans Anti-Corruption Coalition) or on Twitter @NOLA_ACC. Our email address is AntiCorruptionCoalition@gmail.com.
Human rights advocate Janet Hays is a founder and co-director of the New Orleans Anti-Corruption Coalition.
*Correction: Since the column was first published, this paragraph has been corrected and expanded. PACs and joint fundraising committees are not entirely exempt from reporting requirements, as was stated incorrectly. But donors identities can be obscured in ways explained in the second sentence, which has been added for clarification. The column, first published earlier in the week, was further modified on Thursday to reflect that the rally occurred as planned.