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Did Steny Hoyer Really Say That?

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The man pretending to be my old friend Steny Hoyer on Tuesday -- surely it wasn't the real House Democratic whip -- did a whale of a job.

The hair, the voice, the mannerisms, even the cut of the suit, were perfect; the impersonation was so good that reporters and Hoyer's staff were taken in -- the Maryland congressman's press secretary tried to "clarify" some of her purported boss' statements Tuesday night, clearly unaware of the ruse.

But when I read the lines this Hoyer look-alike fed to the media, his nonsensical attack on President Obama's plan to force government contractors to disclose their political contributions, I knew he couldn't be real.

The real Hoyer would never be candid enough to suggest that an administration -- Democratic or Republican -- might try to withhold government contracts from corporate political donors that support its opponents. The logical extension of that notion is that those donors might expect a reward, in the form of more government work, in return for their donations to the party in power.

That's a little too close to the truth for Steny, and for most of his colleagues in both parties. It makes the case I've been arguing for years -- that big, special interest political contributions come with strings attached and need to be regulated.

The real Hoyer also would know that he could never get away with the kind of flip-flopping his double executed on Tuesday. He'd know that old friends like me would recall his words on the House floor last June 24, when he described himself as a strong supporter of disclosure and voted for legislation -- the DISCLOSE Act -- that would have imposed on all corporate political spenders the same transparency requirements Obama now wants to place just on those who do business with the government.

Recalling how federal laws limited corporate political spending for more than a century, that Hoyer asserted that when "huge sums of 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."

That Hoyer also understood that when citizens "don't know the source (of political contributions), 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."

I thought that was the real Steny Hoyer, a principled while pragmatic, get-things-done congressman. The guy we heard from on Tuesday was something else altogether.

Bob Edgar, a former Pennsylvania congressman, is President and CEO of Common Cause.

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