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Democrats opposing contractor disclosure backed by corporate donors

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Last Friday, the House passed a measure that aims to block any executive order regarding disclosure of political donations.

Eighteen House Democrats joined almost every Republican to support the amendment, while another eight Democrats did not vote at all. All other Democrats opposed it. The measure was attached to an energy and water appropriations bill and would prohibit the use of any funding to implement an Obama administration effort to require more information on campaign spending.

On average, the 18 Democrats House members received about 63 percent of their campaign contributions from corporate sources for the 2010 election, according to an analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data. This was calculated by totaling each members’ donations from 14 13 sectors (such as defense and finance) identified by CRP but excluding donations from the following sectors: lawyers and lobbyists, Labor, ideological or single-issue groups and groups labeled ‘other.’

Of the 18 congressmen, Reps. Mike Ross, Jim Matheson, and Colin Peterson relied most on corporate PACs and employees during the last election, taking in nearly 85 percent from those sources. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Dan Boren received nearly 80 percent of their campaign cash from corporate sources.

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The amendment they voted for sought to preempt an Obama administration effort, first disclosed in April, to issue an executive order that would require all government contractors to disclose their political contributions, including those to organizations that don't disclose their donors. It was meant as a response to Citizens United v. FEC, where the Supreme Court ruled to remove restrictions on corporations’ expenditures in elections.

That ruling opened the floodgates for some undisclosed election spending. Nonprofit organizations can now receive corporate donations and make independent expenditures on elections without reporting their donors to the Federal Election Commission. Crossroads GPS spent $15 million opposing Democratic candidates last election; because it's organized as a section 501(c)4 committee, it's not required to disclose its donors. Similarly, because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a 501(c)6 organization, it doesn't have to disclose its donors, despite spending more than $32 million in the 2010 cycle to influence elections.

Democrats have gotten into the act as well, recently launching Priorities USA Action, a 501(c)4 organization that was co-founded by former White House spokesman Bill Burton.

Obama's executive order would bring some unknown corporate donations to nonprofits into the public realm. It would also make the donations of the nation’s largest union, AFL-CIO, known, because it has small contracts with the Department of Labor.