WASHINGTON — The second-ranking House Democrat said Tuesday he opposes a White House proposal to require anyone seeking government contracts to disclose political contributions.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the party whip, placed himself on the same side as Republicans and the business community — and against liberal groups demanding more disclosure.
Hoyer told reporters that contractors should be chosen on the merits of their applications, their bids and their capabilities, not on their political donations.
President Barack Obama's disclosure order, drafted in April, has not yet been issued.
One of Obama's sharpest critics, Chairman Darrell Issa of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has scheduled a hearing Thursday to hear from witnesses who believe the order would curb free speech and harm small businesses.
Hoyer told reporters, "It's not a requirement now. I don't think it ought to be a requirement. So I'm not in agreement with the administration on that issue."
Drafted April 13, Obama's proposal would require anyone submitting bids for government work to disclose two years' worth of political contributions and expenditures. The order would apply if the total exceeded $5,000 to a given recipient during a given year.
The total would include donations that officers, directors, affiliates and subsidiaries made to federal candidates and parties. But most important, it would cover donations to third-party entities that make independent political expenditures. Those donations are not disclosed currently.
Liberal groups that track campaign finance urge Obama to approve the order, so the public can identify at least some of the contributors to third- party groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Collectively, these third-party groups spend millions of dollars to influence presidential and congressional elections, but their donors are not disclosed.
The director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Jacob Lew, has declined Issa's invitation to testify at Thursday's hearing. Issa, in a letter to Lew on Monday, asked him to reconsider and threatened to issue a subpoena to force his future appearance.
Lew wrote Issa last week that he was unable to testify because the draft order "is still moving through the standard review and feedback process."
Hoyer, in his weekly session with reporters, said, "I think there are some serious questions as to what implications there are if somehow we consider political contributions in the context of awarding contracts."
He said the plan would raise questions if a Democratic contributor failed to win a contract with a Republican administration — or vice versa.
Hoyer represents a Maryland district in Washington's suburbs, an area rich in government contractors. His web page even provides advice on "Learning how to sell successfully to the U.S. government, the world's largest buyer of goods and services."
The draft order said it addresses "the perception that political campaign spending provides enhanced access to or favoritism in the contracting business."
Issa, in his letter to Lew, complained that the plan did not order disclosure of union contributions, "because unions and political advocacy groups receive millions of taxpayer dollars through federal grants."
Republicans appeared jubilant after learning of Hoyer's comments.
"I'm glad to see that somebody on the other side is standing up to this blatant attempt to intimidate people into either not contributing to causes the administration opposes or to the contrary," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He said Obama was seeking to inject politics into government contracting, which he called "a truly outrageous suggestion."