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If we want to monitor political contributions without restricting speech and trampling the First Amendment, transparency is the only way to do it.

That's why President Barack Obama should sign an executive order on his desk requiring companies that want federal government contracts to disclose their donations to all political messengers. Currently, these companies must make public their contributions to specific campaigns and political action committees, but not those to "advocacy groups," the soft-money organizations through which more and more political money flows.

The United States Chamber of Commerce, representing an awful lot of companies that don't want these contributions disclosed, is fighting the new rule. It says government contracts should be granted strictly based on merit, and making these contributions public would sully that process by influencing people against the companies that spend so much to buy . . . influence.

The public deserves to know how companies that want to do business with government are using cash to shape that government. For that matter, so do the stockholders of those companies, who are also currently kept in the dark about how their assets are deployed. hN