Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie has joined the ranks of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as an out-and-out opponent of transparency. He uses a twisted reading of the First Amendment to claim that people who voice their opinions in political discourse through the use of their own money–exercising their free speech rights–should be protected by a cloak of anonymity so as to keep them from facing ridicule and threats.
Here’s his quote (via Huffington Post):
[I]f you look at the history of donors on the right giving to a certain causes or organizations, they have been subject to some pretty vicious attacks from the organized left. People who gave to a referendum out in California were flooded with emails pretty nasty in nature and had their jobs threatened. You saw what happened with Target who supported a candidate for governor in Minnesota and then all of the sudden the organized left went after Target.
And the fact is, a lot of these folks who are opposed to more government control in our economy and more government intervention in our economy are already to subject to a great deal of government control and regulation in our economy. And there is fear of retribution. There is a fear that well, if I give to this organization, those who are in control and power and who seek to further government control might give my sector or my company or my own personal lives, they might come after me.
Cry me a river.
Adam Serwer has an excellent post on this over at the Washington Post’s Plum Line blog. He pulls a quote from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, no fan of the “organized left,” in his concurrence with a ruling upholding disclosure in ballot initiative funding:
There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance. Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.
I think that last line is pertinent. Gillespie favors a system whereby rich donors can freely influence the political system without the wider populace’s knowledge. This system that Gillespie desires is one based on cowardice. It is also a break from the principles of self-governance: that people should be provided with the free flow of information to make informed decisions about their nation.
If you are willing to exercise your free speech rights by donating money to a political organization, you should be prepared to publicly stand by speech you have just made. It’s not called the public square for nothing.