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Project on Government Oversight

POGO and Allies Call for Sunlight on Contractor Campaign Spending

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July 18, 2012

U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

End Pay-to-Play Politics Through Transparency

Ellison/Eshoo Amendment Would Cast Sunlight
on Government Contracting

 

Dear Representative:

Our organizations write to you in strong support of the government contractor transparency amendment to H.R. 5856, sponsored by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) and Anna Eshoo (D-Cal.).

“Pay-to-play” is the all-too-common practice of a business entity making campaign contributions or expenditures in support of public officials with the hope of gaining a lucrative government contract. The timing and targeting of campaign contributions demonstrates that contractors seek access to politicians with oversight of contracting,[1] and interviews with contractors reveal that they believe this access helps them win contracts.[2] Just how frequently such pay-to-play corruption takes place is a matter of dispute, but there is no disputing that the public perceives this problem is widespread.

The Ellison/Eshoo amendment would help bring the government contracting process out of the shadows. The amendment would require federal contractors to disclose their contributions to federal political campaigns after a contract is awarded.

Pay-to-play corruption thrives in the shadows. As long as the public is generally kept in the dark as to how much a corporation is spending on behalf of public officials and their respective parties, pay-to-play can be an exceedingly effective tool in winning government contracts. Though it is extraordinarily difficult for the public to connect the dots of which company is spending how much in support of which candidates, contractors and their lobbyists are not at all shy about selectively informing officeholders and party officials who they are supporting and who they oppose.

While officeholders generally know their financial benefactors, the public is routinely left in the dark. This dichotomy between what politicians know and what the public knows about contractor campaign money is the greatest single recipe for pay-to-play abuse in federal contracting.

One of the single most important means to rein in this type of pay-to-play abuse in government contracting is to create a system of full disclosure so that the public also knows which contractors supported which officeholders. This transparency in contractor campaign spending would provide the public with the means to discern when contracts are being awarded based on money rather than merit – and a powerful tool to check pay-to-play abuses in government contracting.

There is nothing new about the idea of requiring government contractors to disclose their campaign financial activity. More than a dozen states already impose special disclosure requirements on government contractors, and federal contractors have been disclosing their PAC contributions for decades.

Full disclosure of money in politics is overwhelmingly supported by the American public, and it is one of the most effective means to ensure that the integrity of the government contracting process is not being compromised by the campaign money of “insider” influence peddlers.

We strongly urge you to support the Ellison/Eshoo government contractor transparency amendment.

Sincerely,

Campaign Legal Center

Center for Media and Democracy

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Common Cause

Democracy 21

New Progressive Alliance

Project On Government Oversight

Public Citizen

Sunlight Foundation

Union of Concerned Scientists

US PIRG



[ 1]  Roland Zullo, “Public-Private Contracting and Political Reciprocity,” Political Research Quarterly (2006) at 273-281.

[ 2]  Kimberly Palmer, “Schmooze or Lose,” Government Executive (2005).

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