Is Obama Circumventing Congress to Restrict Political Speech?

Mike Brownfield /

Is President Barack Obama trying to perform an end-run around Congress in order to implement restrictions on political speech?

It’s a question that 27 senators put to President Obama in a letter this week in which they urged him to reconsider a draft executive order (EO) that would require government contractors to disclose political contributions.

In the letter, the senators cite to Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, who raised concerns over the underlying purpose of the executive order:

Given similarities between the draft EO and some provisions of the DISCLOSE Act, which was rejected by the Senate in its current form, we are also concerned that the EO may be an effort to circumvent Congress. At least one commentator, former Federal Election Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky, has already criticized the draft EO as an attempt by your Administration “to implement–by executive fiat–portions of the DISCLOSE Act.”

Earlier this week, von Spakovsky explained in The Washington Examiner the effect — and intent — of the president’s EO.

It would require any company bidding on a government contract to disclose all political contributions made in the two years before the bid by the company, its affiliates and subsidiaries, and any of its directors or officers …

It would require government contractors to disclose any contributions they make to third-party organizations “with the intention or reasonable expectation” that the funds will be used to make “independent expenditures or electioneering communications.”

In other words, bidders will have to disclose all of their charitable and noncharitable donations to third parties if those outside organizations engage in any grassroots lobbying or political speech. This is obviously intended to curtail (and censor) political speech by government contractors.

The order wouldn’t apply to federal employee unions or many nonprofits that receive federal grants and, as von Spakovsky writes:

What is really going on here is a transparent attempt to introduce political gamesmanship into the government contracting business by the Obama administration. It is a cynical attempt to use the guise of reform to achieve political goals at the cost of the liberty that all Americans have to participate in the political process, and to voice their political opinions, without fear of retribution to themselves and their businesses.