What if We Had a Federal Database Tracking Domestic Political Activity?


Now this–this is a good lede:

Imagine if the George W. Bush administration, in its waning days, had introduced something called the Patriot II Act. To prevent terrorists and foreign agents from influencing American governments and political parties, the act would require political campaigns and other groups to report the names, addresses, and employers of their supporters to the federal government, which would enter the information into a database. The act would also give businesses access to this database, enabling them to make hiring decisions, credit determinations, and other choices based on political activity. Can anyone doubt that Patriot II would be widely considered a gross violation of civil liberties?

Fortunately, the government never passed such a bill. Unfortunately, it didn't need to: this is already the law, and it has been for over 30 years.

That's from the former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, Bradley Smith, writing "in defense of political anonymity" over at City Journal. It's an interesting piece no matter where you stand on the issue of disclosing campaign contributions, and not just because it quotes from Senior Editor Brian Doherty's definitive history of libertarianism, Radicals for Capitalism.

If Smith's argument sounds familiar, it may be because you saw him making some of the same points on ReasonTV in 2008:

Other Reason interviews of Smith from 2004 and 2001, and read his 2005 piece on John McCain.