President Barack Obama has been compared to former presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, but recent business policies advocated by his administration have earned him a comparison to yet another president — Richard Nixon.
A recent draft of an executive order regarding political contributions and government contracts is making the rounds on Capitol Hill, drawing condemnation from some and comparisons to Nixons infamous enemies list.
According to the draft order, all companies bidding for a government contract would be required to disclose contributions made by the business and its directors or officers to federal candidates, parties or party committees. Businesses would also be required to disclose contributions made to third party entities that may engage in political speech.
This is a change from the current policy that prohibits federal contractors from making certain contributions during the negotiations for and performance of a contract.
The Wall Street Journal reports the draft executive order would not apply to recipients of federal grants or to federal employee unions.
As Andrew Malcolm of the L.A. Times facetiously asks, What could possibly go wrong with that kind of information in a nonpartisan place like Washington?
In a Forbes blog, writer Charles Kadlec said if Obama were to sign the order, he would override the democratic process and justify disclosures in the name of transparency.
But in this case, transparency can easily morph into tyranny, Kadlec writes. Linking government contracts and political giving opens the door for the president to use the trillions of dollars in federal expenditures to punish his opponents and to reward those who contribute to his campaign and the campaigns of other Democratic candidates.
This information could easily be used to form a Nixonian enemies list on steroids, Sean Parnell, President of the Center for Competitive Politics, tells Kadlec.
According to the Center for Competitive Politics, the executive order is an attempt to circumvent the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which stated the government could not prohibit companies, unions and advocacy groups from engaging in independent political speech.
Groups supporting the executive order include the Center for Media and Democracy, Citizen Works, Consumer Watchdog, Democracy for America, League of Women Voters of the United States, OMB Watch, SEIU and the Social Equity Group.
In a San Francisco Chronicle editorial, the paper argues the order is a small step toward correcting the outsized influence that wealthy individuals and corporations now have on our political process.
The White House defended the executive order, saying it is a draft that is moving through the standard review and feedback process. But a White House official also told The Hill the order will encourage transparency and accountability.
The president is committed to an overhaul of government contracting policies that promote accountability, transparency and competition, the official said. Taxpayers deserve to feel confident that federal contracting decisions are based on merit alone and are not influenced by political favoritism.
In a letter to the president, Republicans argue, No White House should be able to review your political party affiliation or the causes you support before deciding if you are worthy of a government contract.
Contrary to the [executive orders] stated goal of eliminating 'the undue influence of factors extraneous to the underlying merits of contracting decision making, such as political activity or political favoritism,' injecting such information into every contract offer could be perceived as including political contributions as a fact that is considered in the awarding of federal contracts, the letter states.
Newspapers such as the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Detroit News have penned editorials opposing the executive order, saying it would be an abuse of the powers of the office and it imposes a new level of politics onto the way in which bids for government work are handled. Columnist Kimberley Strassel at The Wall Street Journal blasted the order, saying it routs 70 years of efforts to get politics out of official federal business.
Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have also signaled their opposition to the proposal. Even House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., signaled tentative opposition to the executive order.
With a House committee hearing titled Politicizing Procurement: Will President Obamas Proposal Curb Free Speech and Hurt Small Business? scheduled for Thursday, the executive order is sure to be discussed in-depth. Although the Office of Management and Budget originally declined to participate in the hearing, the administration backed down after Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., threatened to issue a subpoena. Daniel Gordon, the administrator for federal procurement policy, will represent the OMB.
The Obama administration is also coming under fire in another business dispute after Obama-appointee Lafe Solomon, Acting General Counsel at the National Labor Relations Board, filed a complaint against the Boeing Company for "unlawfully transferring work to a non-union facility."
According to the NLRB, Boeing announced in 2009 that it would locate a second production line in South Carolina instead of in Washington state, where the employees are part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Later the NLRB investigated the move on behalf of the union and found reasonable cause to believe that Boeing had violated two sections of the National Labor Relations Act.
The NLRB complaint states that Boeings decision to build the plant in South Carolina rather than in Washington state is motivated by a desire to retaliate for past strikes and to chill future strike activity.
Although construction of the new South Carolina facility is nearly complete and 1,000 new employees have already been hired, the NLRB states that as a remedy to the alleged unfair labor practices, the Acting General Counsel seeks an order that would require Boeing to maintain the second production line in Washington state.
Boeing responded to the complaint in a letter to Solomon, saying the complaint has done a grave disservice to the Boeing Company, and that the complaint is based on misstatements that cannot be credibly maintained under law.
Boeing also said its decision to place the plant in South Carolina was not retaliation for strikes, but was due to the favorable business environment in South Carolina for manufacturing companies like Boeing and significant financial incentives from the state of South Carolina.
The NLRB is wrong and has far overreached its authority, Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney wrote in The Wall Street Journal. Its action is a fundamental assault on the capitalist principles that have sustained Americas competitiveness since it became the worlds largest economy nearly 140 years ago.
South Carolina is one of 22 right to work states, which allow employees to decide whether or not to join or financially support a union. Critics and supporters on both sides of the Boeing/NLRB spat have focused much of their attention on unions, saying its either an issue of companies attacking the middle class, or a heavy-handed government tactic designed to hurt states that dont require unionization.
Again focusing on an enemies list, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., criticized the NLRBs complaint, saying the White House was using its power to unfairly target those who might disagree with its policies.
Mr. President, do you have an enemies list? Paul asked. Is this decision based on the fact that South Carolina appears to be a Republican state, has two Republican senators? Is this decision based on the fact that South Carolina is a right-to-work state? Are they on your enemies list?
At a Tuesday news conference, Republicans and business leaders urged the president to denounce the NLRBs complaint, saying businesses will suffer if the NLRB succeeds in forcing Boeing to build in Washington.
The chilling effect of this complaint will be unmistakable, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wrote in a National Review column. If the NLRB can do this to South Carolina, disrupting business and killing jobs, it can do it anywhere, including Utah or any other right-to-work state. This is likely the very message the Board is trying to send with the Boeing complaint.
In a letter to the president, Republicans have pushed for Obama to withdraw the nominations of Solomon and board member Craig Becker. Bloomberg reports the House Education and the Workforce Committee also gave the NLRB until May 19 to submit information about its complaint. Additionally, Investors.com reports Senate Republicans are proposing to amend legislation that would stop a federal agency from punishing companies seeking to move to right-to-work states.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., criticized Republicans for focusing on the NLRB, saying they were meddling with an independent federal agency.
We need agencies like the NLRB to be able to operate freely and without political pressures, Reid said in a floor speech. We need to keep our independent agencies independent.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Republicans are overreacting to a routine unfair labor practice charge.
Thats what this all comes down to: powerful corporate interests are pressuring public officials to interfere with an independent agency, rather than let justice run its course, Harkin said. And we should not tolerate this interference.
The NLRB is simply doing its job, defending the rights of workers to collectively bargain and to act in concerted activity, Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council wrote in an op-ed piece. Were Boeings actions to go unchecked, companies would be free to coerce and intimidate workers, their unions and states into deals that primarily profit the company. This would make a mockery of the fundamental human right of workers to stand together in order to balance out the power of corporations.
In a blog post on biggovernment.com, Labor Union Report suggests South Carolina workers use Solomons own logic to strike back against the NLRB.
While the National Labor Relations Act clearly protects employees rights to unionize and to engage in concerted activity (such as the right to strike), the Act also protects the rights of employees who wish to refrain from those activities — and this is where Boeings union-free employees in South Carolina can use the law to their advantage, the post states.
If the charges have been made because employees chose to decertify the Machinists union in South Carolina, the charges could be considered retaliatory, the post reasons, and therefore the NLRB could also be complicit in furthering an unlawful objective on behalf of the union. That would allow the South Carolina employees to file charges against both the Machinists union and the NLRB.