Republicans and Democrats unite to ask President Obama: Why haven’t you signed this popular transparency order?

sw16-schneider-60x80By Gabriela Schneider
Senior Director of Communications
IssueOne

Ten billion dollars. That’s what some experts predict the 2016 election will cost (at least financially). And that’s just what we can track, because of the exorbitant rise of dark money spending—mostly on negative ads that can make or break a candidate. This kind of political spending from groups that do not have to disclose their donors has risen by an astronomical 5188 percent since 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

This Sunshine Week, as news organizations and advocates reflect on the progress we’ve made on transparency and right-to-know reforms, it is critical to urge President Obama to sign an executive order that would shine a light on one tranche of money in politics by requiring disclosure of all political spending by businesses that receive taxpayer money through federal contracts. That way, voters would know who is behind efforts to influence their vote. Likewise, it would ensure that government contracts go to companies offering the most efficient and high-quality product or service, not those who pay to play.

Across the ideological spectrum, there is a growing consensus in America that the dominance of political money coming from a small group of vested interests must be curtailed. Last year, the New York Times reported that a mere 158 wealthy families contributed nearly half the funding for the 2016 presidential race. This concentration of political influence contributes to the sentiment behind the equal percentages of liberals and conservatives—76 percent—who say money has more power than ever before, according to the Pew Research Center. Moreover, 87 percent of Americans believe our system should be reformed so that a rich person does not have more influence than a person without money and 91 percent of likely Republican 2016 Iowa caucus-goers reported that they were unsatisfied or “mad as hell” about the amount of money in politics, just three points shy of Democrats who said the same thing.

Our imbalanced campaign finance system is a significant contributor to the electorate’s overwhelming feeling of disempowerment. One popular remedy with bipartisan support to fix this insidious problem is transparency. Public opinion is strongly in favor of it—78 percent of both Democrats and Republicans in an Associated Press poll said they agree with requiring donor disclosure. Presidential candidates from both parties have spoken out in favor of more transparency, including Republican front-runners Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.

The executive order that awaits the president’s signature is the one common-sense disclosure reform that would give Americans the right to know how much federal contractors are spending in our elections, and would help restore trust in our government. It would help ensure taxpayer-funded federal contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars are awarded based on merit and competition, not on which company can dole out the most campaign contributions. The executive order would cover a large number of companies, including 70 percent of the Fortune 100. And it would not run afoul of the ban Congress established on disclosure of political donations during the bidding process, instead requiring businesses to disclose after they have been awarded a government contract. It’s also not unprecedented: Three states (New Jersey, Utah and Delaware) have similar rules on the books to discourage pay-to-play politics in their local democracies.

And yet, it languishes, even though it would not require a Supreme Court decision nor approval by Congress and enjoys broad public support—including by a resounding 66 percent of Republican voters. High-profile Republican political leaders echo this call, including:

Additionally, several Republican members of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus of elected officials speaking out for comprehensive campaign finance reform sent the president a letter urging his swift action on this order, including Michael Castle (R-DE) Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Jon Huntsman (R-UT), Tom Kean (R-NJ), Jim Leach (R-IA), Connie Morella (R-MD) and Alan Simpson (R-WY).

Democratic leaders, too, support the order. More than 130 members of the president’s own party in Congress have called on him to act [House letter; Senate letter], including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and in a recent op-ed, Rep. Steve Israel, the former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who earlier this year announced his impending retirement from Congress because of the exorbitant time spent dialing for dollars.

And the people have spoken out in favor, with more than one million of Americans publicly rallying behind it. More than 117,000 citizens petitioned the White House through its official “We the People” platform, making this particular petition one of the few to have earned an official response from the administration, albeit one that failed to do little more than thank signers for their concern.

It’s true this administration has many pressing priorities, including filling the Supreme Court vacancy, but for President Obama’s promises and rhetoric concerning “better politics” to stick, the onus is now on him to ensure that this executive order does not die on the vine. In his final State of the Union address, he said that “we have to reduce the influence of money in our politics so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.” President Obama should sign this order now to shine sunlight on secretive political spending and reorient our democracy back toward the people.

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  1. […] “Republicans and Democrats unite to as President Obama: Why haven’t you signed this popu… by Gabriela Schneider, senior communications director, IssueOne: “This Sunshine Week, as news organizations and advocates reflect on the progress we’ve made on transparency and right-to-know reforms, it is critical to urge President Obama to sign an executive order that would shine a light on one tranche of money in politics by requiring disclosure of all political spending by businesses that receive taxpayer money through federal contracts.” (Read more) […]

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