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Obama's Hypocrisy on Unions and Political Disclosure

The president's proposed executive order is a transparent attempt to help his own political allies.

2:46 PM, Apr 22, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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A proposed draft of an executive order that would require disclosure of political contributions by federal contractors has been circulating in Washington, D.C.:

The White House is drafting new rules that would require companies making bids on government contracts to disclose their contributions to political candidates and organizations, including donations that otherwise would remain secret.

The White House casts the proposal as an effort to improve transparency and accountability, but Republicans charged that the rules would inject politics into what should be an unbiased procurement process.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that President Barack Obama "intends to pursue" the executive order, but said details have not yet been settled.

Mr. Carney told reporters that Mr. Obama "believes very strongly" that "taxpayers deserve to know" how contractors are spending taxpayer dollars. "His goal is transparency and accountability. That's the responsible thing to do when you're handling taxpayer dollars," he said.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) called the rules "an effort to silence or intimidate political adversaries' speech through the government contracting system."

Whether this idea has any merit is certainly debatable, and Democrats and the White House have been scrambling to do something ever since the Supreme Court upended the campaign finance regulatory regime with the Citizens United decision.

On the surface, such disclosure would seem to discourage pay-to-play federal contracts. However, the White House is probably hoping that no one pays much attention to the underlying politics of the proposed executive order. That's because unions would be exempted from increased disclosure, and hampering corporate donations is really about preserving a structural fundraising advantage for Democrats.

If you care about the influence of money in politics, your first concern should probably be unions -- not corporations. That's because 12 of the 20 biggest political contributors over the last two decades have been unions; in last year's election the single biggest political donor was public-sector union AFSCME which spent $87.5 million and actually bragged about it to the Wall Street Journal; and unions collectively spent over $400 million during Obama's 2008 election. Nearly all of that money went to Democrats.

Democrats are keenly aware of this, which is why their last attempt at instituting new campaign finance rules, last year's failed DISCLOSE Act also created the same imbalance:

A Democratic amendment tucked into campaign finance legislation Wednesday night also drew fire from Republicans and their allies, who contend it gives special treatment to Democrat-allied labor unions. The language in question would exempt from disclosure requirements transfers of cash from dues-funded groups to their affiliates to pay for certain election ads. It was inserted into the bill by Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Administration Committee and a big union backer.

The DISCLOSE Act also had a similar rationale as the executive order but it went even further, barring companies that have more than $7 million in federal contracts from spending money to influence elections.

Either way, the Democrats' desire to crackdown on corporate donations while leaving unions untouched is especially troubling because union political influence is often in direct opposition to corporate interest. Just to cite on example, recently the National Labor Relations Board has come under fire for trying tell Boeing that they cannot set-up a manufatcuring facility in South Carolina, a right to work state, because they claim its tantamount retalition against the union in Washington state. This is patent nonsense.

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