Offering specious arguments about free speech and intimidation, Republicans are trying to derail an executive order by the Obama administration that would shed light on the political activities of government contractors. The order would require them to disclose any contributions they make to organizations that engage in political advertising, including the Chamber of Commerce and the shadowy groups known as 501c(4)s. In that way voters would know who was behind advertisements by groups with vague or innocuous names.
A bill that failed in the last Congress would have established strict new rules requiring the disclosure of donors behind political advertisements. Known as the DISCLOSE Act, it also would have required the heads of unions and corporations that advertised in support of candidates to vouch personally on the air for the messages. Congress should take up that legislation again, but in the meantime President Obama ought to do what he can to require disclosure. Imposing requirements on government contractors is only a partial solution, but it is a legitimate one.
Actually, it might be constitutional for the government to ban federal contractors from engaging in any political spending at all. The Supreme Court has upheld restrictions on the 1st Amendment rights of government employees, and the rationale can be extended to contractors, who have an obvious conflict of interest when they spend money on behalf of a candidate. But the order being considered by the Obama administration doesn't go that far; it simply requires that the contractors disclose their political spending.