Silencing the Opposition

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

I want you to imagine the following scenario.

The Governor of a large industrial state – one that allows anonymous coordinated campaign contributions – is widely regarded as anti-union. That Governor, who benefitted from millions of anonymous dollars from corporate donors, decides that he wants to know what the unions actually spent opposing him, so he asks for a bill that would require disclosure of previously anonymous contributions.

The legislature refuses to accommodate him, even though it is his own party in control. Undeterred and acting unilaterally, the Governor issues an order that anyone doing business with the state must disclose on any bid the campaign contributions of the business entity, its officers, and all its trade union subcontractors – including those not required by any law to be disclosed.

Now imagine that Governor was Tom Corbett. Or John Kasich. Or Scott Walker. The left would be blowing a gasket over the apparent attempt to chill valid – and Constitutional – political speech. They would claim that any move was an attempt to punish and silence the Governor’s opponents – making the order invalid.

They would be absolutely right – the disclosure requirement discussed is absolutely being imposed to chill political speech.

Yet this is exactly what the Obama administration is seeking to do. Last month the administration leaked a proposed executive order that would require companies bidding on federal contracts to disclose contributions or political expenditures that total in excess of $5,000.

Additionally, contractors also would be required to disclose contributions to third-party nonprofit groups — known as a 501(c)(4) organizations — where there is a "reasonable expectation" that the funds would be used to pay for electioneering communications such as paid advertisements.

There is simply no valid reason to demand to know this type of information because it could not – LEGALLY – be used as any basis for a decision. Consider these facts: you can’t base contracts on contributions, good or bad – that’s called Quid Pro Quo, and is illegal; you can’t score bids relying on it; and you can’t judge any bid’s merit based on it. All you can do is hope to silence dissenting voices through intimidation and implied contracting disadvantages.

This is not speculation – it is the unvarnished truth: there is NO legal use for this information in contracting.

Which leaves us with the invalid reason – the hope that the eventual disclosure will prevent the political speech all together.

There is a reason that the Democrats need to do this. Their media advantage is dwindling with each passing day, as more and more media outlets dilute their ability to control the debate. The recent debt and deficit battles evidence this.

And if that were not bad enough, they are also losing the financial support of the Unions – not because the Unions are unwilling, but because the Unions have less and less money to spend as their numbers dwindle.

The President’s re-election team know this will have real consequences; after all, in the last election the SEIU was the top PAC donor at over $8M, and #3 and #4 were teachers unions who combined for another $12.3M. Those unions are deeply in debt – SEIU alone owes over $80 – and consequently have a declining ability to provide a steady stream of dollars to Democrat coffers.

Finally – and this is the main driver of Obama’s proposed policy – the legal playing field was recently leveled, allowing corporations to do exactly what the Unions have been doing for the last 40 years – engage in valid political speech. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United made it possible, and ever since the President and his party have been determined to kill its effect.

Which brings us back to the executive order and its attempt to do what the legislature would not – chill the free speech of opponents just in time for the President’s re-election.

And I am not over selling it.

The President – and current candidate for re-election who would benefit greatly from this edict – wants to give big companies pause before they oppose his policies or support any of his opponents.

This is as invalid an executive order as I can imagine, and not just because it seeks to gain information to which it has no right; its because it seeks information for which it can have no legitimate use.

After all, what possible justification can there be for requiring this disclosure EXCEPT to imply that too much money for the opposition will hurt your contracting chances?

Government contracts are supposed to be decided on low bid – so I will ask again – why on earth do they need this information in this process?

The answer is as plain as it is unacceptable: the President of the United States is looking to quiet opposition speech.