President Obama has been denouncing “dark money” since 2010, when he declared it “a threat to our democracy.” And he’s right to be concerned: Dark money — in the form of donations to politically active nonprofit organizations that do not have to disclose their donors — now amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars each election.
If he actually wanted to do something about it, he could — without any involvement by Congress. He could issue an executive order requiring corporations that do business with the federal government to disclose their dark money contributions and those by their top executives.
But last week, as 104 congresspeople and 26 senators urged him to do that, he used his spokesperson Eric Schultz to wave them off. “We believe Republicans should be taking steps to fix the campaign finance system, not trying to protect their ability to accept dark money,” Schultz said.
It’s hard to disagree with that. But it would be just as hard to disagree if a Republican spokesperson said, “We believe the Democratic president should be taking steps to fix the campaign finance system, not trying to protect his party’s ability to accept dark money.”
The federal government buys about $500 billion in goods and services every year, and most of the biggest U.S. corporations get chunks of that money and would hate to give it up. Obama used this leverage twice in 2014, first requiring federal contractors to pay their workers at least $10.10 per hour, and then forbidding contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
A new executive order on disclosure of political contributions would make a significant difference. According to a study by Public Citizen, 11 of the top 15 recipients of federal cash (including number one, Lockheed Martin) don’t fully disclose possible dark money contributions.
This past March, 50 organizations, including AFSCME, MoveOn, the NAACP and the Sierra Club, asked Obama to issue an executive order. Then in April the signatures of 550,000 people with the same request were delivered to the White House.
There’s no question that the GOP is scared of this. House Republicans tucked a provision that would protect corporations from disclosure into a spending bill — in fact, that’s what prompted Schultz’s comment.
And corporate America despises the idea. When the Obama administration floated issuing a dark money executive order in 2011, the top Chamber of Commerce lobbyist said: “We will fight it through all available means … all options are on the table.”
At that point Obama courageously gave up, and has continued giving up until today. But Republicans do still face the very real danger that his spokesperson will say mildly disapproving things about them.
Photo: Yuri Gripas/Getty
(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)
First came the Never Trumpers, and I did not speak out, because they stood against Donald Trump. Then came the Lincoln Project, and I did not speak out, because their videos went viral. Then came the Chamber of Commerce, and by then it was too late.