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Republicans seek to block disclosure requirements for political gifts

The measure, adopted as an amendment to a defense spending bill in the House, is intended to preempt an expected executive order from President Obama.

May 25, 2011|By Kim Geiger, Washington Bureau
  • "This is about the American people knowing what these people are spending," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.).
"This is about the American people knowing what these people are spending,"… (Carolyn Kaster, Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — House Republicans voted Wednesday to try to block the Obama administration from forcing companies bidding on federal contracts to say how they spend money to influence elections.

The measure was adopted roughly along party lines as an amendment to a massive defense bill. It was intended to preempt an executive order that would require companies seeking to do business with the government to disclose their political donations, including to groups that use anonymous contributions — such as the Chamber of Commerce.

The White House has signaled that President Obama is considering such an order. Recent Supreme Court rulings freed companies to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, but existing laws do not require disclosure of contributions to independent groups that are set up a certain way under the tax code.

The measure was among 152 amendments to the 2012 defense bill that the House is debating this week. 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 election, 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 their opposition.

"What are we afraid of?" said Rep. Elijah E. 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 chamber spent $33 million last year on advertising to influence political races without disclosing its donors. The organization lobbied for Cole's amendment, labeling it a "key vote" — a signal that the chamber might target lawmakers who oppose it.

The 900-page defense spending bill would provide $690 billion for the Pentagon and U.S. wars overseas.

The White House supports parts of the overall authorization measure, but threatened Tuesday to veto the bill over several provisions — including limits on the president's authority to implement a new arms reduction treaty with Russia, restrictions on transfers of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and expansion of the president's power to unilaterally fight terrorists.

The House has yet to act on amendments that could allay some of the White House objections.

Lawmakers did approve an amendment by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) to allow service members with children to defer deployment to a combat zone if their spouse is already deployed.

Another amendment passed Wednesday seeks to recover the remains of 13 Navy commandos who died during a secret mission off the coast of north Africa 207 years ago.

The commandos were buried in Tripoli when they washed ashore after a failed mission during the Barbary Wars. Relatives of the commandos have lobbied Congress to repatriate the remains, which include that of Lt. Henry Wadsworth, uncle of the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The unrest in Libya provides a window of opportunity, advocates contend.

kim.geiger@latimes.com

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