Rein in government contractors who use taxpayer money for political advantage
President Obama is considering an executive order to force contractors to disclose their political spending.
President Obama is mulling an executive order to force big government contractors to disclose details of their political spending. Big businesses are already telling their political patrons in Congress to oppose it – and the pressure is building.Skip to next paragraph
Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
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The President should issue the executive order immediately. And he should go even further – banning all political activity by companies receiving more than half their revenues from the U.S. government.
Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest contractor, has already got more than $19 billion in federal contracts so far this year. But we know very little about Lockheed Martin’s political spending other than its Political Action Committee contributions. We don’t know how much money it gives to the Aerospace Industries Association to lobby for a bigger defense budget.
We don’t even know how much Lockheed is giving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby against Obama’s proposed executive order requiring disclosure of its political activities.
Don’t we have a right to know? After all, you and I and other taxpayers are Lockheed’s biggest customer. As such, we’re financing some of its lobbying and political activities.
Lockheed’s lobbying and political activities are built into its cost structure. So when Lockheed contracts with the federal government for a piece of military equipment, you and I end up paying for a portion of its political costs.
It’s one of the most insidious conflicts of interest in American politics.
That’s why the President should go the next step and ban Lockheed and all other government contractors that get more than half their revenues from government from engaging in any political activities at all.
Otherwise, you and I and other taxpayers indirectly pay for Lockheed and Northrop Grumman to lobby for a larger military budget and support politicians who will vote for it.
And so on.
Disclosure is a start. But in this post-Citizens United world, it’s only a beginning of what’s needed.
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