05/12/2011 03:55 pm ET | Updated Jul 12, 2011

Hoyer vs. Hoyer: Comparing the Difference One Year Makes

Yesterday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer announced that he opposed a draft Executive Order prepared by the Obama administration that would require government contractors to disclose all of their campaign contributions and expenditures to influence federal elections.

House Minority Whip Hoyer's comments yesterday were in sharp conflict with the support House Majority Leader Hoyer voiced for disclosure last year on the floor of the House in supporting the DISCLOSE Act.

According to an AP story, Representative Hoyer yesterday said about the disclosure Executive Order, "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."

In fact, under existing campaign finance disclosure laws government contractors are already required to make a number of campaign finance disclosures. They are required to disclose the campaign contributions and expenditures made by their PACs, as well as the individuals contributing to their PACs. They are also required to disclose the campaign expenditures they directly make on "independent expenditures" and "electioneering communications." The contributions made by officers and directors of government contractors also have to be disclosed by the recipients of the contributions.

What is missing today, however, and what the draft Executive Order would provide, is disclosure of contributions made by government contractors to third parties "with the intention or reasonable expectation" that the third party groups will spend the contributions on independent expenditures or electioneering communications to influence federal elections.

This provision of the draft Executive Order is intended to address a gaping disclosure loophole that has arisen regarding government contractors and others as a result of the Citizens United decision. Following that decision, which struck down the longstanding ban on corporate campaign spending, corporations organized as "social welfare" organizations under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code or as business associations under section 501(c)(6) of the Code engaged in an unprecedented amount of campaign spending to influence the 2010 congressional elections.

This led to more than $135 million in secret contributions being spent by third party groups to influence the 2010 congressional races and returned secret money to federal elections at a level not seen since before the Watergate scandals.

It should be recognized that government contractors have long been in a special category and have long had to abide by a special provision in the campaign finance law to protect the government contracting process. The Executive Order simply would do what the President appropriately can do under his own authority to obtain campaign finance information regarding government contractors that is being hidden from the American people.

Democracy 21 strongly disagrees with House Minority Whip Hoyer's opposition to the disclosure Executive Order.

Apparently House Majority Whip Hoyer last year also would have disagreed with House Minority Whip Hoyer this year regarding disclosure, based on the floor remarks he made last year in support of disclosure and of the DISCLOSE Act.

House Majority Whip Hoyer stated on the House floor last year in supporting the DISCLOSE Act:

For more than a century, Mr. Chairman, America has limited the role of private money in public elections. We've done so because we believe that huge sums of money from unknown sources, from unknown sources -- I reference that and emphasize it because I'm going to refer to it in some comments of our Republican leadership in years past regarding money from unknown sources--dominates elections; and especially when it does so in the dark, the interests of ordinary citizens are too often the victim.

America's work toward open and fair elections has been, as it has been in every country, imperfect but better here than almost any place in the world; but it took a severe blow this winter when the Supreme Court voted in the Citizens United case to overturn longstanding precedent, allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of their treasury funds--not of private unions that their employees contributed, which I support, but their corporate funds and their union treasury funds--in unrestrained fashion to influence elections directly.

The gentleman who is my friend, former Attorney General of the State of California and a good friend of mine-we've served together for a long time-says correctly that we do not want to limit free speech. I agree with that. The First Amendment is one of the sacred amendments that our Founding Fathers adopted to make our country not only unique but one of the freest countries the world has ever seen.

But without transparency, without knowing the source of the speech that you hear, without having the ability to analyze who is telling me that this is good or this is bad, what is the source of the interest that is saying that this legislation is bad or this legislation is good--obviously all of us have said from time to time, Consider the source. We all say that. When somebody who we know doesn't like A or doesn't like B says something bad about A or B, we say, Consider the source. But if we don't know the source, we can't consider the source, and if we can't consider the source, we do not know the validity of the information that is transmitted to us.

That is the key to this legislation. That is the essence of what we're saying, not that a corporation or a union can't try to influence the American public to support a candidate or a proposition that it believes to be in its best interest. That's the American way. What we are saying, however, is that given the Supreme Court's decision, that we ought to make sure that citizens know who's talking to them; otherwise they will not have the ability to make a judgment on the credibility of the information they are receiving.

Now, as I said a little earlier, that is a goal that many of my colleagues, including my Republican colleagues, have supported in the past. My friend Eric Cantor, who is the minority whip, said this: ``Anything that moves us back towards that notion of transparency and real-time reporting of donations and contributions I think would be a helpful move towards restoring confidence of voters.'' This tries to do exactly that, restore the confidence of voters that they will know who's spending much money to influence their votes, their opinion, their actions.

Former Speaker Gingrich said this, that in an ideal system ``the country knows where the money is coming from. That would be transparent, simple, and fair.''

While he was not speaking on behalf of this bill, that applies to this bill.

Minority Leader Boehner said this, ``I think what we ought to do is we ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all the money that we raise and how it's spent.'' That's what we're saying in this bill.

When you receive a 1-minute or a 30-second ad on TV, who's talking to me? How are they spending their money? If they spend it through a third party, they do so in many ways to hide the source. Whether it's a special interest on the right or the left or in the middle, a business interest, a labor interest, whatever interest it is, as a voter, I need to know who's talking to me so I can judge the credibility of the information that I am receiving.

I agree with the thoughts that have just been quoted by my three Republican colleagues, and I think they support the passage of this bill. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank Chairman Brady for the outstanding leadership he has shown in bringing this bill to the floor. I want to thank my other friends who have worked so hard on this.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention specifically my friend and colleague from the State of Maryland, Chris Van Hollen, who has been tireless in his work on behalf of the DISCLOSE Act. Surely you can do it, surely you can have free speech, you can say anything you want, but tell me who you are. Do not hide under a cloak. Lift that cloak up and find out who's talking. If we do that, America's elections will be better. The people will be better informed and more confident that they can rely on the information they seek.

Consider the source, vote for this bill.

The draft Executive Order would require disclosure to the public of donations made by government contractors to third party groups where the donor knows or has reason to know that the money will be used by the third party group for expenditures to influence federal elections.

This disclosure would ensure that the public is fully informed about the campaign finance activities being undertaken by government contractors. It also would help protect against government contractors using campaign money to obtain influence with Executive Branch officials and members of Congress over the awarding of government contractors.

The Executive Order also would provide the public with a more centralized and easily accessible database of the campaign finance information being disclosed by government contractors. This would help to more effectively carry out the goals of disclosure laws to inform the American people and protect the integrity of government decisions.

Democracy 21 urges House Minority Whip Hoyer to revisit his remarks from last year on the importance of disclosure and to revise his position and support the Obama administration's disclosure Executive Order.