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Prop 8 Supporters Launch Attack on Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws

by: Robert Cruickshank

Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 11:00:00 AM PST

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.

Robert Cruickshank :: Prop 8 Supporters Launch Attack on Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws
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It's not like owning a private copy of Mein Kamph (0.00 / 0)
This is a bit amusing.  I'm sure that folks like Lott complained no small amount about out-of-state donations that targeted his favorite Republicans.  

If Lott wants to read Mein Kamph in the privacy of his own cave, it's private.  If he wants to give lots of money to put Hitler on the ballot, it's public record.

I'm not totally down with going after small donors, but in general, this is public record, and it needs to be public record.  Lott doesn't complain about the Club For Growth abusing the system, and he doesn't favor folks who give money for progressive causes, so he doesn't get taken seriously now.

So... If I have this right... (0.00 / 0)
Conservatives believe that the government should have the right to eavesdrop on your private conversations without probable cause and imprison you without appeal if a bureaucrat says you're a terrorist, because "if you have nothing to hide, why should you care".

But they simultaneously believe that the public should not have the right to know whether or not you gave money to a political campaign (although presumably the government knows through wiretaps), because apparently, some people will have strong views about your strong views, and you should be protected from criticism?

Wow.  It must be so confusing living in their world.  You have to believe so many completely contradictory things simultaneously.  

Sounds kinda silly (0.00 / 0)
when you put it that way :-)

But maybe it isn't, since these people seem to think that gays are scarier than terrorists.

[ Parent ]
If you donate money to a campaign that seeks to restrict the civil rights of an organized group of people (0.00 / 0)
those you attack will respond in kind with things like boycotts. There is nothing wrong with that. It will cause conflict and some (nonphysical) harm to businesses and individuals, that is the point after all, but so did the 1960's civil rights movement. If you can't handle it then don't donate. Lott and Smith are nothing more than cowards for wanting to have it both ways

Very weird responses to article (0.00 / 0)
1) My article with Bradley Smith contains an example of attempted intimidation through outing donors on both sides of the Proposition 8 campaign.  We also provide other examples from the civil rights movement where making names of donors known would have silenced those groups.  If you all can provide any examples where proponents of Proposition 8 tried to intimidate opponents of the measure, we would be very interested in hearing them.  The original piece above and the comments suggest to me that people here are so upset by the Prop 8 issue that they didn't read the entire piece.
2) As if providing those examples wasn't enough, we write: "The question is not whether Prop. 8 should have passed, but whether its supporters (or opponents) should have their political preferences protected in the same way that voters are protected."
3) To be honest, I don't even know what my co-author's views on Proposition 8 are.  We never discussed it.  However, Brad is a fairly libertarian guy and the research of both of us has found that campaign finance regulations generally have had unintended consequences.

Not so strange, considering the source (0.00 / 0)

First, thanks for posting here.  It's a bit unexpected, but I think you'll find people are reasonably civil here.

But no, the responses are not too strange, considering the Journal's general attitude towards the role of money in politics, or its generally laissez-faire attitude towards the relationship of corporate money that has so corrupted the system due to innovations of people like Rick Santorum, Tom De  Lay, and allies like Mr. Abramoff.

The position of the Journal has consistently been that money does not corrupt the system (forgive any snickers you're going to hear around here, including from me), that it should be in no way limited, that money is "speech", and as long as the source of that money is disclosed, the resulting transparency makes up for any "potentially corrupting" (those snickers again) effects of that money.

That transparency, the story goes, is needed to allow the public to see who is supporting what.

Now, I'm not sure what you feel personally, but a lot the kinds of people who post on your famous op/ed page would like to do without all that inconvenient disclosure, since corporate lobbyists and the people they work for would like to have the deep speech of huge campaign donations go entirely without restriction or regulation of any kind, and public disclosure can be pretty effective regulation.  So any excuse that one could find to remove disclosure requirements is something these people, and I suspect many of the people on the Journal's editorial page committee, would welcome.

I'd be a lot more impressed, if when folks like Monica Gooding used lists of campaign donations to prevent hiring people to the professional civil service had been roundly condemned by the WSJ op/ed page.  But this did not happen.

Suddenly, when the Mormon Church and others encouraged their out of state followers to donate to the Prop. 8 campaign, you see a problem. I too am a bit uncomfortable with some of the excesses, but the truth is, the reason we read about them in the newspapers is that they aren't all that common.  They are "man-bite-dog" stories.

They are not sufficient to justify the kind of back-room, and profoundly anti-democratic "reform" that you are proposing, which rather than protect a few religious fundamentalists, will really be a boon for the large, corrupt corporate class that so enjoys the WSJ op-ed page.

[ Parent ]
Thanks for reading and commenting (8.00 / 1)
I'll respond to each point, and then hope you'll answer a few questions of my own.

1) How is discussing publicly available information about who gave what "outing"? "Outing" implies making public something that was secret.

In contrast to the NAACP in 1950s Alabama, nobody's life is being threatened for donating to a pro or anti-Prop 8 cause. It's a comparison that makes no sense and suggests you're either not familiar with the Civil Rights Movement history or are deliberately confusing things.

Boycotts are not only fundamentally different from facing racial violence in the South, they are part of American history dating back to the Boston Tea Party. Nor are they a form of "intimidation" - they are a form of protected free speech. That's politics, that's the public sphere.

That is in contrast to the intimidation tactics of the Yes on 8 campaign in October, where they sent letters to No on 8 donors demanding they give an equal donation to ProtectMarriage.com or be "outed." The difference here is that was an effort to silence speech using tactics that may well have been illegal, whereas the post-election boycotts aren't intended to silence anyone. The goal there is to say "you can donate wherever you want to, but not with my money." It's funny that you anti-marriage folks are willing to use a weapon and then criticize those who use it.

2) Since nobody is being silenced by government here, all speech is already protected - whether it's the donation of money or criticism of that donation. Isn't that what you're after - silencing critics?

In fact, I'd like you to be clearer here. Do you believe campaign donations should be made secret? Do you believe the California Fair Political Practices Commission should issue a ruling to that effect?

Did you coordinate this op-ed with any Yes on 8 groups, and is it part of an effort to shield anti-gay donors in advance of a repeal Prop 8 campaign?

3) Shouldn't libertarianism involve letting the people make whatever political decisions they want to - including protesting those who give money to a campaign - and live with the consequences? Using government to shield donors from criticism seems rather un-libertarian to me.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
so money can't be restricted because it is free speech (4.00 / 1)
and thus public speech, and thus protected by the first amendment, but that same money should be secret, hidden from public view?

talk about tortured logic.

Lewis Carroll writes for the WSJ Op/Ed Page (0.00 / 0)
His argument does get curiouser and curiouser the more you think about it, doesn't it?

[ Parent ]
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