| In a remarkable column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal right-wingers John Lott and Bradley Smith use the backlash against Prop 8 donors to suggest an end to campaign finance disclosure laws. They cite some of the more well-known examples of voter accountability for Prop 8 backers - Marjorie Christofferson, the Cinemark movie theater chain - to argue that campaign donations should be treated like a secret ballot:
How would you like elections without secret ballots? To most people, this would be absurd.
We have secret balloting for obvious reasons. Politics frequently generates hot tempers. People can put up yard signs or wear political buttons if they want. But not everyone feels comfortable making his or her positions public -- many worry that their choice might offend or anger someone else. They fear losing their jobs or facing boycotts of their businesses.
And yet the mandatory public disclosure of financial donations to political campaigns in almost every state and at the federal level renders people's fears and vulnerability all too real. Proposition 8 -- California's recently passed constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage by ensuring that marriage in that state remains between a man and a woman -- is a dramatic case in point. Its passage has generated retaliation against those who supported it, once their financial support was made public and put online.
This column could only be written in light of persistent media efforts to paint Yes on 8 donors as victims. By erasing the true victims - 18,000 same sex couples and the innumerable other couples who wished to follow them to full equality - folks like Steve Lopez have constructed a situation where the far right can use those supposed victims as a battering ram against campaign finance disclosure rules they've long opposed.
Lott's and Smith's argument is pernicious. They argue that mandatory disclosure limits freedom of speech and of political action, that anonymous donations have protected groups like the NAACP (from government harassment, not public accountability, as the columnists neatly ignore), and that public pressure to disclose donors will accomplish what regulations currently provide (yeah right).
This is not just a wingnut attempt to protect their wealthy allies. It's an effort to lay the groundwork to undermine California's disclosure laws in the event we return to the ballot to repeal Prop 8 in the near future. Without disclosure rules, it is highly likely that we will see much larger sums of money donated to the anti-gay cause.
Even before the post-election backlash unfolded, many wealthy donors and companies refrained from donating to the Yes on 8 campaign for fear of alienating customers and Californians. If these rules are relaxed then companies that rely on same sex marriage supporters for their profits could take that money, give it to the haters, without the public knowing or being able to take their business elsewhere. It could provide their side with a significant financial advantage over ours in a future ballot campaign.
That is likely the reason behind this op-ed. Sure, they buried it on the day after Christmas, but you can be assured it's not the last we'll hear of this argument. We would do well to prep our own response - that the public's right to know is sacrosanct, that if the right wants money to be equated with speech that implies disclosure, and that this is nothing but an end run around our laws to allow corporations to dominate our elections.