Amendment is one of 152 offered to Defense spending authorization
-By Kim Geiger
May 25, 2011- House Republicans voted Wednesday to try to block the Obama administration from requiring companies that bid on federal contracts to disclose how they spend money to influence elections.
The measure was adopted roughly along party lines as an amendment to a massive defense bill, and was meant to pre-empt an executive order by President Obama that federal agencies obtain information on political donations by companies seeking to do business with the government.
The White House has signaled that Obama is considering such an order as one step to require some level of disclosure by companies. Recent court rulings freed companies to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, but existing laws do not require companies to disclose payments they make to independent groups which use anonymous dollars to finance their influence and advertising campaigns.
The measure was among 152 amendments to the 2012 defense bill being debated this week by the House. The Democratic-controlled Senate still must pass its version, then negotiate with House leaders on a bill they can send to the White House.
Democrats have blamed anonymous corporate spending for their defeat in last year's midterm elections, and Republicans denounced the push for disclosure as politically motivated.
"It's a political quest, not a quest for more information or a better product or a better bid," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), urging colleagues to "keep the executive branch from engaging in fishing expeditions."
But Democrats chided Republicans for opposing discloure.
"What are we afraid of?" said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). "This is about the American people knowing what these people are spending. If folks aren't doing anything, there's nothing to be afraid of."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a major recipient of anonymous campaign money, spent $33 million last year on advertising to influence political races across the country. The organization lobbied for Cole's amendment, labeling it a "key vote," a signal that the Chamber might target lawmakers who vote the wrong way.
The 900-page defense spending bill would provide $690 billion for the Pentagon and U.S. wars overseas. Amendments ran a gamut from GOP policy preferences to war policy.