Contracting bill would settle debate over including political donations in bids

A House committee has approved a bill that would keep political contribution information from entering the contract bid process.

The underlying issue surrounding the Keeping Politics Out of Federal Contracting Act (H.R. 2008) is transparency versus its applicability in government contracting. That is, would requiring contractors to reveal their political contributions when they submit bids, as has been proposed, add anything of use to the procurement process?

Throwing in his support behind the bill, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said the government should not be allowed to single out companies and then to require them to report on political contributions.

“I believe it would have had the unintended but nonetheless real effect, a chilling effect, of actually discouraging participation in the political arena, and I’m not sure that’s a wise policy,” he said.

Other members of Congress say Americans want more accountability on where tax money is going.

“This House bill represents the opposite of what voters are demanding—disclosure and transparency,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

She and 39 other members of Congress today sent another letter to President Barack Obama in support of getting contribution information from companies in contract bids.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the bill. It would not allow the government to require a contractor to submit political contribution information about itself or any of its employees in a bid or during the performance of a contract. Agency officials could not use political information—obtained by the contractor or another organization—as a factor of consideration during the source selection process or any other modification of a contract.

The Obama administration circulated a draft executive order a year ago that would require information on political contributions from companies when submitting bids for contracts. White House officials considered it a transparency measure. Watchdog organizations and some members of Congress support it as a means of obtaining more disclosure on large new categories of corporate political expenditures.

The draft order split Congress last year. Some members urged on President Barack Obama to officially issue the order. In July 2011, Eshoo led 62 House Democrats in writing to the president requesting the executive order for transparency’s sake.

But others proposed bills to block it. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, said today that being asked to reveal one's political views should not be a part of the contracting process. 

While transparency is important, Connolly said, mandatory disclosure of political support is “unwise public policy, however good the intentions.”

The fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law in 2011, stopped political contribution information from having any a part in the bid process. The new bill would make that prohibition stand until a future Congress repeals it.

While transparency is important, Connolly said, “I think that’s unwise public policy, however good the intentions.”

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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