Campaign Finance

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


Now this–this is a good lede:

You should Google-image-search "bushitler" some time. It's like re-living 2007 all over again.

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.

NEXT: Better Than Releasing People Who Don't Belong in Prison: Not Putting Them There to Begin With

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. int p, i, j, lw, lh;
    int thisSpin, neighbSum, neighbAligned, spin01;
    double ran;

    lh = lat->height;
    lw = lat->width;

    for ( p = 0; p++; p < 2 )
    for ( i = 0; i += 2; i < lw )
    for ( j = abs((i%2) – p); j += 2; j < lh )
    thisSpin = lat->sp[ i ] [ j ];
    neighbSum = lat->sp[ (i+1)%lw ][j] + lat->sp[ (i-1)%lw ][j] + lat->sp[i][(j+1)%lw] + lat->sp[i][(j-1)%lw];
    neighbAligned = 0.5 * neighbSum + 2.0;

    spin01 = ( thisSpin + 1 ) / 2;

    ran = rand( ) / RAND_MAX;

    if ( ran fac [spin01] [neighbAligned] )
    lat->sp[i][j] = -lat->sp[i][j];

    return 0;

    The campaign finance laws require disclosure of donors, not supporters. Big difference.

    1. Switching from a PC to a Mac is teh hard. The Command key pastes, not Control.

      1. Tulpa, that would be more readable if you used proper nesting.

        And where are the comments?

        1. And where are the comments?

          Ah, I see. You’re trying to steal my code now, aren’t you?

    2. Anyone who formats their code like that is an animal, not fit for normal computing society. It’s about as readable as a Joe Eszterhas script.

      And didn’t anyone tell you that camel casing is so 2004?

      1. The comment filter removed all the indentation, so I think you got the wrong idea about my coding style. And I have religious objections to using gorram underline characters. Any resemblance to Lonewacko is purely coincidental.

        1. It’s not just the indentation, you beast. You were clearly raised in a (computer) barn, because you code like a David Copperfield orphan speaks English.

          1. Go easy on him, Epi. Not everyone is writing enterprise class code that has to be understood eight years later by several other programmers who never saw the code before.

            1. There’s no excuse, Paul. Even if only he will ever see it, he might have to back much later and interpret his own spaghetti.

              1. Maybe it’s a throw-away program. You know, those things we right in the dark of night for one-off data conversions?

                Maybe it was a lesson plan for “how not to code”.

                Maybe it wasn’t Tulpa’s.

                1. those things we right in the dark of night for one-off data conversions?

                  Some say this proves I’m a real programmer. But I recognized my mistake, so maybe I’m not a real programmer.

              2. Spaghetti? The word does not mean what you think it means. Niklaus Wirth himself would applaud that snippet.

            2. Actually, this is a small part of the code I’m currently porting from Fortran-500 B.C. into C so that it can eventually be parallelized, so I understand your concern about my programming descendants’ welfare. Commenting will come later.

            3. Some say this proves I’m a real programmer. But I recognized my mistake, so maybe I’m not a real programmer. download step up 3d

        2. Seriously… OTBS

          1. I would mention that my bracing style is that favored by the ANSI C standard, but I’d hate to be accused of “fellating authority” again.

      2. And didn’t anyone tell you that camel casing is so 2004?

        Are the young people no longer CamelCasing? Hmm, ok, guess I’ve been off the game too long.

  2. Requiring politicians, or aspiring politicians, to report who is contributing money to their political campaigns seems to serve a valid purpose — it makes it harder to bribe a politician to use the government to hand out goodies to the one making the bribe.

    If such disclosure wasn’t required, a rent-seeking person could simply hand a politician cash, ostensibly for campaign purposes, and the politician could then deposit it in their personal bank account and use it for personal use, in exchange for a quid pro quo favor given to the briber at taxpayer expense.

    Now, limiting the AMOUNT of campaign contributions runs afoul of the First Amendment protection of free speech rights.

    You should be able to give any amount of money to a politician for their political campaign, or spend money directly to advocate for your preferred candidate.

  3. The curious result is that only in the realm of explicit political speech?perhaps the most important kind of speech protected by the First Amendment?has the Court broadly permitted government to mandate disclosure about speech that is neither fraudulent, false, nor an imminent threat to public safety.

    Requiring politicians to disclose who has given them money, and how the politicians spent that money, is not necessarily “disclosure about speech”. The point is to determine IF that money was spent on speech, or whether it was instead a bribe given in exchange for a quid pro quo political favor.

  4. “”What if We Had a Federal Database Tracking Domestic Political Activity?””

    What Facebook isn’t good enough?

    1. I thought that’s what the press was supposed to do.

    2. Only a moron uses their real name on Facebook.

      1. Lotta morons out there….

        1. Everyone’s a moron but that palindrome guy

  5. This sounds like a conspiracy theory. “Black helicopters are tracking my political activities”. quit the paranoia.

    1. Nope, just some unelected bureaucrats who work for the FEC. I sleep better at night knowing that.

    2. Retard Alert

  6. I struggle with this one.

    Those of us hate McCain-Feingold with the white-hot fury of a thousand suns do so because we realize that spending money is essential to speech.

    Thus, its a little hard to say that disclosing the sources and uses of funds for speech is not “disclosure about speech.”

    OTOH, requiring basic audit trails and accounting of our political campaigns seems like the most elementary political hygiene.

    On the whole, I think I come down on the side of auditing our politicians and holding them accountable for the money their campaigns handle.

    Independent expenditures shouldn’t be subject to this kind of oversight.

    And yes, I know this opens up a loophole for wink-and-nod coordination.

  7. Requiring politicians to disclose who has given them money, and how the politicians spent that money, is not necessarily “disclosure about speech”.

    Sorry, no. It’s none of your damn business which candidate I choose to give money to.

    Should this idea extend to electoral referendums? Should we know everyone who is giving money to the “Say No to Unions” referendum? I’m sure the union thugs would love to know which cars they should be setting on fire in the dark of night.

    1. They’re doing God’s work, JW.

    2. I understand your concern here. It is a valid concern.

      Are you concerned about union thugs handing wads of unmarked bills to politicians in exchange for laws making it legal for them to set fire to cars of union opponents, and do so in broad daylight?

      Is there a way to preserve anonymity of donations, yet prevent bribery?

      1. Is there a way to preserve anonymity of donations, yet prevent bribery?

        Stop electing shit-weasels? /snark

        The short answer, which has been covered on H&R frequently, is to remove the ability for congresscritters to grant favors to friends and family.

        Now, *how* to do that is a whole different Happy Fun Ball, but to me the potential for graft, real or not, shouldn’t trump free speech rights. Which, in the end, is what this is all about.

        1. Freedom of speech does not imply that speech must be allowed to be anonymous. Indeed, at the time the 1st amendment was ratified, there was no way for speech to be anonymous, so it’s hard to argue that the amendment was intended to guarantee anonymity.

          1. Tulpa, did you actually RTFA? Your statement is about as wrong as wrong gets.

  8. You do realize that handing a politician money in unmarked bills is not necessarily going to result in anything that could remotely be considered political speech?

    Like the corrupt pol here in Hawaii who was caught using thousands of dollars in campaign contribution for such things as buying a Valentine’s Day dinner for his wife and himself, and then claiming it was spent listening to the political views of a “constituent”, since his wife lives in his district, and they allegedly discussed politics during the date?

    1. Well, that’s 2 things.

      1) A violation of federal (and probably state) election laws. Of that, which I could not give a shit about.
      2) A violation of trust of his/her donors. *That* is one I do give whit about and would be mightily pissed if that was my candidate.

    2. Prolefeed,

      I’m of the opinion that politicians should have to spend campaign contributions for anything but the campaign. It reduces the damage to the constituents by minimizing the chances of actually getting elected.

      1. LOL. +1

  9. The auditing of campaign contributions has eliminaed bribes. There are no bribes any more due to the FEC. It seems straightforward. Only conspiracy theorist believe bribes still exist.

    1. Do not feed the mentally retarded troll.

  10. 30 years ago, congress was more worried about millionares taking over the country than about terrorists.

  11. The fast of the matter is the government is a corrupt place. And the way these officials get elected into the government is even more corrupt. Maybe they need the patriot 2 act and have some oversight. Youtube to MP3

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.