The Real Argument for Anonymous Donors? Freedom, Baby!

| October 25, 2010 | 1 Reply

While I appreciate that both Karl Rove and Michael Steele have punched back twice as hard in response to the White House’s unfounded “foreign money are THE DEBBIL!” charges, I can’t help but think that they’re making the wrong argument.

The only argument I’ve ever heard against anonymous donors is that it allows mysterious and powerful people whose power is exceeded only by their mystery to influence our elections unbeknownst to us. But that has a couple holes in it. First, though the source of the donation may be anonymous, certainly the existence of the donation is not and the existence of that money, which does have to be reported, can tell us quite enough. Let’s say a hypothetical group, call it EvilGloboDomPAC, suddenly starts running a bazillion television ads. That would make us curious, wouldn’t it? So, we take a quick Google trip and find that it’s recently received a couple million dollars from sources unknown. Our discovery gives us reason to either press harder on EDGPAC to tell us what’s going on or to consider EDGPAC’s message with the understanding that someone just paid a heck of a lot of money to get that message out. That the money is anonymous doesn’t make it more or less suspicious than if EDGPAC had gotten a fat check from Ernst Stavro Blofeld himself. The rules are still the same: consider the message then consider the source.

Second, there is a dark side to fully public donor lists. You don’t have to look any farther than the Proposition 8 fight in California to know that opponents of Prop 8 used the public donor lists to harass and threaten those who donated to get the issue passed. It’s not hard to imagine this sort of brownshirt tactic used on a much larger scale against, say, businesses that belong to the Chamber of Commerce.

I’m sure it’s satisfying to kick the President and Nancy Pelosi around for their rank hypocrisy, but in the end, the real argument here is that money and speech are the same thing and that people have just as much a right to anonymous political donations (given reasonable accountability regulations) as they do to anonymous political speech (also given reasonable regulations). The demand for “transparency” from people who know nothing of the word is nothing more than an attempt to force all of us to get official government permission for our political speech. It’s an intimidation attempt designed to drive those whose speech is undesirable to today’s totalitarian progressive out of the public square.

But if you don’t buy that, consider if from another angle. How would Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi have reacted to a similar attack from George Bush and Dick Cheney? Do you really believe the Democrats (and their MSM allies) would have eagerly endured an assault on labor unions, who take in every bit as much anonymous cash as the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove. Why do you think Candidate Obama adamantly refused to reveal the identities of the anonymous donors who pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into his campaign? Sinister motives aside (and, for the record, I believe his motives were sinister), he had legitimate reasons to keep those identities secret and the First Amendment demands that we honor that anonymity.

That should be the message that Rove and Steele push every day. That’s the one that really matters.

UPDATE: Frank J takes on the issue from the other end. Free Speech also means we don’t lock taxpayers into paying for speech they don’t want.

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