Politics & Government

Lawmakers threaten to subpoena White House budget official

WASHINGTON — Two House of Representatives committee chairmen threatened Tuesday to subpoena a top White House official who's refused to testify at their joint hearing Thursday.

The hearing is about a draft executive order that would require prospective government contractors to disclose contributions to groups that air campaign ads.

The proposed rule is intended to thwart the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that opened up campaign spending floodgates in the 2010 elections from donors who weren't required to be identified in certain instances.

But critics contend that the order would open the contracting process to potential political favoritism.

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Missouri Republican Rep. Sam Graves, the head of the House Small Business Committee, invited Jack Lew, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, to testify. Lew wrote the chairmen last week that the order was "still moving through the standard review and feedback process," and he declined to testify.

They replied Monday that his refusal was "perplexing," noting that "OMB's interest in feedback on this executive order extends only to its own echo chamber."

Graves couldn't be reached for comment. Small Business Committee spokesman Darrell Jordan said the panel wanted Lew to testify because the OMB gave contracting guidance to other agencies.

Graves and Issa also said that labor unions, major funders of Democratic campaigns, received federal grants but weren't mandated to disclose their political contributions.

Democrats aren't united on the issue. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said that linking government contracts to campaign disclosure could politicize the process.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a major donor to Republican candidates, agreed.

The proposed order, chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff said, "injects a very real chance that prospective contractors that fund political causes unpopular with the government or the current administration may find that they don't get a contract award due to political discrimination."

But Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, said that about a dozen states already had similar requirements.

"It makes those records available to the public, so the public can discern whether or not government contracts are being awarded based on campaign contributions rather than on merit," he said.

Legislation that would have enacted similar revisions failed to pass Congress last fall.

Millions of dollars ended up flowing to outside groups in the 2010 congressional elections as a result of the high court's decision, known as the Citizens United case. They used the money to pay for advertising in key contests throughout the country without having to identify the donors.

Democrats claim that the money largely aided Republicans, who were the big victors last fall, winning control of the House.

Still, even as the administration tries to tighten disclosure requirements, Democrats probably will take advantage of those rules and set up their own independent advertising efforts in 2012 to combat the groups that support GOP candidates.

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