One year ago, news leaked that the Obama administration was contemplating an executive order that would require all corporations with a government contract to disclose political spending. The ostensible purpose was to make the federal contracting process more transparent, but campaign finance reformers were particularly excited—since so many companies have a federal contract, the order was seen as a de facto DISCLOSE Act, which requires all corporations to reveal political spending over $10,000.
Unfortunately, that initiative seems to be dead, at least for now. The Hill reports that the administration is unlikely to issue that order, until after the 2012 elections at the earliest. This matches what I’ve heard from campaign finance reformers involved in the process.
It’s important to recall that, when the Obama campaign announced in February it would explicitly support Priorities USA and other Democratic Super PACs, there was a pledge to work hard at campaign finance reform in the meantime. This is what campaign manager Jim Messina wrote at the time:
The President opposed the Citizens United decision. He understood that with the dramatic growth in opportunities to raise and spend unlimited special-interest money, we would see new strategies to hide it from public view. He continues to support a law to force full disclosure of all funding intended to influence our elections, a reform that was blocked in 2010 by a unanimous Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate. And the President favors action—by constitutional amendment, if necessary—to place reasonable limits on all such spending.
Indeed, Obama supports the current House and Senate versions of the DISCLOSE Act—laudable bills that have exactly zero chance of passing before the end of the year because of Republican votes in the House and Senate. The administration could make that change happen anyway with a stroke of the pen on this executive order, but it’s now clear that it will not.
The question then is what, exactly, the White House is actually willing to do to create a better campaign finance system. If it’s not going to sign this executive order, the administration could try to force some nominees onto the Federal Elections Commission, as many good government groups have urged. Alternately, the White House could call for the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue rules requiring political spending disclosure—one SEC commissioner has already voiced support for that move.
If Obama is serious about campaign finance reform, he might take some of these executive actions. Alternately, he could just keep supporting bills he knows won’t pass, while raking in millions to his Super PAC for untold future promises. I have a cynical hunch what will happen, but I’m eager to be proven wrong.