Why We Need to Rein In Government Contractors That Use Taxpayer Money for Political Advantage

President Obama is mulling an executive order to force big government contractors to disclose details of their political spending. Big businesses are already telling their political patrons in Congress to oppose it – and the pressure is building.

The President should issue the executive order immediately. And he should go even further – banning all political activity by companies receiving more than half their revenues from the U.S. government.

Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest contractor, has already got more than $19 billion in federal contracts so far this year. But we know very little about Lockheed Martin’s political spending other than its Political Action Committee contributions. We don’t know how much money it gives to the Aerospace Industries Association to lobby for a bigger defense budget.

We don’t even know how much Lockheed is giving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby against Obama’s proposed executive order requiring disclosure of its political activities.

Don’t we have a right to know? After all, you and I and other taxpayers are Lockheed’s biggest customer. As such, we’re financing some of its lobbying and political activities.

Lockheed’s lobbying and political activities are built into its cost structure. So when Lockheed contracts with the federal government for a piece of military equipment, you and I end up paying for a portion of its political costs.

It’s one of the most insidious conflicts of interest in American politics.

Now, in the wake of the grotesque Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, there’s no limit on what Lockheed can spend on politics.

That’s why the President should go the next step and ban Lockheed and all other government contractors that get more than half their revenues from government from engaging in any political activities at all.

Otherwise, you and I and other taxpayers indirectly pay for Lockheed and Northrop Grumman to lobby for a larger military budget and support politicians who will vote for it.

We indirectly pay for Blackwater to lobby for – and support politicians who will demand – more use of contract workers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We indirectly pay for Raytheon and General Dynamics to lobby for, and support politicians who will push for, more high-tech weapons systems.

And so on.

Disclosure is a start. But in this post-Citizens United world, it’s only a beginning of what’s needed.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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1 Comment on Why We Need to Rein In Government Contractors That Use Taxpayer Money for Political Advantage

  1. How come Reich worries so much about industry, but ignores the huge campaign contributors of government unions such as SEIU? This is just another transparent scam by liberals to reduce campaign contributions to conservatives. What business is it of anyone who is giving money to whom, as long as it is legal?

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