The Coward’s Argument Against Transparency


“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…” — Teddy Roosevelt

The United States Chamber of Commerce wants to be in the arena. They are in the arena, spending nearly $20 million so far on independent advertising for and against candidates for Congress, and getting their hands dirty. The only problem is that they’re spending money given to them by donors who are not in the arena and not getting their hands dirty. These hidden organizations are circumventing the real nitty-gritty of democratic debate by finding a proxy to fight their battles for them. In essence, they’re cowards.

And now the Chamber of Commerce is making this defense for them. Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the Chamber, told ABC News’ Jake Tapper:

What this administration wants is a list of who the companies are who are contributors, and we saw last year, Jake, why, when we very publicly ran ads against the Patients Protections and Affordable Care Act, quoting the CBO, quoting the head of CMS, the Centers for Medicare Services, that it would not in fact bend the cost curve down, that it would bend the cost curve up as they testified before the senate finance committee, there was an attempt to try and find out who were the corporations that were contributing to that effort.

When some of those corporate names were divulged, not by us, by others, what did they receive? They received protests, they received threats, they were intimidated, they were harassed, they had to hire additional security, they were recipients of a host of proxies leveled at those companies that had nothing to do with the purpose of those companies. So we know what the purpose here is. It’s to harass and intimidate.

Much like we’ve seen in California with ballot initiatives — when the proponents of ballot initiatives’ names have been divulged to the public — those people were harassed, they were threatened with violence and they were intimidated.

This coward’s argument is being adopted by more and more powerful forces. The powerful, the wealthy, are hiding behind a cloak of secrecy out of fear that citizens may discover their political positions and hold them accountable. Shiver.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie and now the highest spending lobby in Washington are all making the argument that those who choose to join in the political fray and express themselves politically, through the spending of money, lots of money, should be shielded from the consequence of expression: debate.

Another Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, who I have quoted before, made the best case against this argument for cowering:

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.

In other words: If you can’t stand the heat, get your ass out the kitchen.