The Internet has been ablaze over the past 24 hours with reports that the Obama Administration is considering requiring “all entities submitting offers for federal contracts to disclose certain political contributions and expenditures that they have made within two years prior to the submission of their offer”. This was first disclosed by Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commissioner and scholar with the Heritage Foundation. The Public Policy and Infrastructure and Government Contracts Groups offer this analysis of the Administration’s proposal, as it is known so far, and will monitor efforts to implement it as well.

The proposed order requires the following to be disclosed:

(a) All contributions or expenditures to or on behalf of federal candidates, parties or party committees made by the bidding entity, its directors or officers, or any affiliates or subsidiaries within its control; and
(b) Any contributions made to third party entities with the intention or reasonable expectation that parties would use those contributions to make independent expenditure or electioneering communications.

The Impact of these Rules on the Contracting Community Will be Significant. If implemented, these disclosure requirements would have a broad impact both in terms of what needs to be disclosed and who needs to disclose it They would apply, for example, to any entity seeking to do business with the federal government. So those seeking to contract with the federal government would have to put a compliance system in place – as part of putting together its bid – in order to keep track of the contributions and expenditures made. Also, the proposed disclosure requirements would reach far into the bidding entity, to include affiliates or subsidiaries under its control. For an entity with many subsidies, this would not only mean creating an effective compliance system but enabling the coordination within that system among many pieces and players, in order for effective disclosure. Finally, they would apply not only to political contributions to candidates and political parties but also to contributions made to a third party that spends money for advertisements advocating the election or defeat of a candidate for federal office. So, for example, if an officer of a bidding entity also belongs to an organization that runs ads calling for the defeat of a candidate, then he or she must disclose dues any other payments made to that organization, in the context of the bidding entity seeking the federal contract. That goes beyond any requirement in place today and in real terms means that those entities which run these advertisements could see the disclosure of those behind them.

Many legal issues are likely raised by an Executive Order that would be issued with this content. Among these issues are: (1) constitutional, third party, and other statutory rights that might be disturbed by compliance with the requirements of the Executive Order; (2) whether such an Executive Order exceeds the President’s authority; and, (3) potential third party liability that might be incurred by implementation activities of covered entities (e.g., employment disputes), among others.

This proposed executive order is clearly a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which reverses decades of statutory and case law that prohibit corporations from using their general treasuries to fund independent political advertising supporting or opposing candidates for local, state or federal office.  And those on the right clearly consider it to be drafted in favor of organizations favoring the Democratic Party. van Spakovsky, for example, notes “federal employee unions that negotiate contracts for their members worth many times the value of some government contracts are not affected by this order. Neither are the recipients of hundreds of millions of dollars of federal grants”. We would note that this is a proposal only and the final details of the Executive Order are still not in place.