Pay-to-Play Laws Vary Widely in Scope and Effectiveness, New Public Citizen Research Shows

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Pay-to-play laws vary widely in scope and effectiveness, but some jurisdictions squarely address the corrupting influence of campaign contributions from government contractors, Public Citizen found in its 2016 compilation (PDF) of pay-to-play laws around the country, which was released today.

The analysis lists the laws or regulations of 15 states, the federal government, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB), all of which place some limits on campaign contributions from government contractors. Several other jurisdictions have disclosure-only requirements for government contractors.

“Pay-to-Play Restrictions on Campaign Contributions from Government Contractors, 2016,” was compiled by Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, and Kyung rok Wi, a student at Penn Law, as a follow-up to the organization’s 2012 compilation (PDF) of pay-to-play laws around the nation.

“The quality of pay-to-play laws varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,” said Holman. “Stronger laws – like those in Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey, as well as the MSRB and SEC rules – define the contractor subject to the limits broadly to include senior executive personnel. They also impose special disclosure requirements upon the contractors to facilitate enforcement of the law.”

Nearly all of the effective pay-to-play laws came on the heels of scandal, frequently in which a governor or other elected official resigned or went to prison for doling out government contracts to large campaign contributors.

“If written well, pay-to-play laws significantly reduce the potential for corruption in the awarding of contracts,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “That is why the courts have generally kept these laws in place, even when they have voided other campaign finance restrictions.”

“In addition, strong federal rules should protect taxpayers from the threat of pay-to-play. One way to at least get a window into possible corruption is for the president to sign the long-awaited transparency executive order requiring that federal contractors disclose their political spending,” Gilbert added.

To highlight the need for an executive order, at 2 p.m. EDT today, Public Citizen will be hosting a Twitter town hall urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal government contractors to disclose their political spending.

View the compilation (PDF), which details key elements – such as monetary limits, which officials are subject to the limits and the names of the enforcement agencies – of each pay-to-play law by jurisdiction.

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