Campaign Finance

2 Arguments Against Mandatory Disclosure of Political Donors


Even among folks who think that there should be no limits on political spending, a sizable chunk of people support mandatory disclosure of who spends what on whom. There's even a bill working through Congress, the so-called DISCLOSE Act, "that would require non-profit political groups to reveal their funders." Candidates and political-action committees have to disclose donors, but there are a lot of other groups that don't.

The impulse to support mandatory disclosure makes a certain amount of intuitive sense but here are two things to keep in mind during any such discussion.

First, disclosure mandates will be used against politically weak individuals and groups. Consider a case from California in the 1990s, when two amateur activists—just the sort of citizen-types who are supposed to get involved in grassroots politics—tried to recall then-state Sen. David Roberti. Russ Howard and Steve Cicero didn't like Roberti's stance on gun control, spending, and other things, so they formed Californians Against Corruption and ran an effort to recall Roberti. The effort failed and the California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), headed by characters very mindful of Roberti's power, levied a fine of $808,000 against Howard and Cicero, whose campaign had spent slightly over $100,000. The cause of the fine was incomplete information on all donors

who had given more than $100. It turned out that some donors didn't include all required information (such as their address, full name, employer, and whatnot). Such oversights might have been out of sloppiness or fear of reprisals (the information becomes public record), but the effect was to implicate Howard and Cicero in violation of disclosure rules. And get this, as Reason's Brian Doherty reported way back when:

The FPPC explicitly stated as an aggravating factor that Howard told a newspaper reporter that "the little guy can't participate [in politics] without running afoul of technical violations." In essence, the FPPC punished him in part for not agreeing with campaign finance law.

Read more here. And read about how in the past the Alabama NAACP and the Socialist Workers Party resisted calls for disclosure to serious threats of political, economic, and personal reprisals. 

Second, anonymous political speech is at the very heart of the nation's founding and experience. For all the reverence show The Federalist Papers, which were authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay and are credited with helping to push ratification of the Constitution, commenters typically neglect that they were published pseudonymously, under the name Publius. There's nothing wrong with anonymous political speech that more speech can't fix. Voters discount anonymous claims if they are sketchy and undocumented, which is one reason why donors and groups who don't need to disclose their identities often do anyway. Another reason people voluntarily disclose is that public affiliation with a cause or a candidate is precisely the point of giving.

Watch ReasonTV's "Who is Publius?":

NEXT: Scott Shackford on Publish or Perish

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  1. This is just an addendum to the McCain Feingold Campaign Finance Bill to maintain the two party (really one party) system. PBS did a great expose on this bill a few years ago illustrating the true purpose of this bill which was to keep citizens angry with there party affiliation out of politics/political office. Even at the local level, democrat republican party officials drown undesirable candidates with legal paperwork/requirements that prevent them from even being able to run. Scary documentary, but shows that we no longer have a democratic republic.

    1. sorry, it should be “their” not there.

  2. Isn’t discrediting an argument based on who said it supposed to be, you know, irrational?

    Not that irrationality has never been enshrined in law before, still, call me naive, but I think that should be avoided.

    1. Isn’t discrediting an argument based on who said it supposed to be, you know, irrational?

      Not only is it irrational, but it’s the cornerstone of progressive “thinking”.

      1. not much of a “thinking” comment

        1. Shorter Urine: “derp”

          Thanks for bringing your unique brand of stupid – and irrelevant – to the gang this morning, Urine!

          1. what “gang” are you?

    2. Isn’t discrediting an argument based on who said it supposed to be, you know, irrational?

      That is all liberals have left. See pretty much every thread MNG ever posted on for an example. And from a Marxist point of view it is not quite irrational. If someone is suffering from a false consciousness, their arguments are per say invalid.

      1. “McConnell was referring to Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of Melaleuca, described by the campaign as a “bitter foe of the gay rights moment,” after he donated $1 million to a pro-Romney super PAC. Super PACs disclose their contributors.

        VanderSloot, however, said he doesn’t oppose disclosure, but is more worried about journalists “spreading falsehoods” about him. “I believe the public deserves to know where the money is coming from,” he said in an e-mail.”

        so vandersloot is a lub-rahl then?

        1. Can you at least try to make a point? Because that fails miserably Orin. If Vandersloot wants to tell the world he gave the money, that is his choice. But that in no way means others shouldn’t be able to give anonymously.

          1. John|6.20.12 @ 9:49AM|#
            That is all liberals have left. See pretty much every thread MNG ever posted on for an example. And from a Marxist point of view it is not quite irrational. If someone is suffering from a false consciousness, their arguments are per say invalid.

            the facts in the article exposes ur point as radio entertainment.

            1. Jesus Christ you are stupid. I am not a Marxist and was giving a the example to make a point, which you clearly don’t and will never understand.

              1. and ur “example” doesnt square w the facts in the article. do try to keep up ol boy

        2. The NAACP sued Alabama and won in the unanimously in the Supreme Court when Alabama tried to make the NAACP disclose is membership and donor lists. So, according to your logic, the NAACP is a bunch of conservatives. And so were Justices Warren, Black, Brennen, and Douglas.

          1. no, john’s “point” doesnt square w the facts in the article. jeesch

          2. That is is a good precedent to have on the books. For a change.

  3. If the “secret ballot” is in place to avoid voter intimidation (by employers, for instance) then why should the ever more meaningful act of helping to finance a candidate be less
    deserving of intimidation protection??

    1. the left is a proud backer of card check, which would do away with secret ballots in union votes. Why would one expect them to be different with regard to contributions? Give leftists this much – they are consistent in their desire to drown out, shut down, or otherwise stifle dissenting thought.

      1. And the next step would be doing away with secret ballots *everywhere*.

        Team Blue would love that shit.

    2. I’d like to see the liberal reaction if a southern state proposed to do away with the secret ballot and publish all voters’ votes online.

  4. The only way to block this sort of thing is to show that it works both ways.

    Start boycotting businesses that support the lefty agenda. Make sure to let them know what you are doing and why. When the left sees that it has no monopoly on punishing people for being politically active, they might back off.

    1. This became more of an issue as union membership declined. The unions may never have been able to contribute as much money, but they made up for a lot of that by providing the manpower to get signatures, knock on doors, man call centers, etc.

      Now that their numbers have declined so dramatically, and states are making some progress in crimping union power and membership at the state level, the left sees the corporations as having more of a financial advantage than they used to vis a vis the unions.

      I can’t honestly say giving businesses an advantage over the unions doesn’t have anything to do with my thinking on this.

      Anyway, I think that’s what most of this is about–although there are still some people like McCain out there who are holding onto the idea that every politician should vote his conscience, free from campaign finance considerations.

      But when McCain says “his conscience”, he means McCain’s, not their own.

  5. Except that the reason the Federalist Papers were published under pseudonyms was because Madison, Hamilton, Jay were considered traitors to the current government in power, Britain. So this isn’t the same thing…

    Allowing secrecy of anything under $100 might be okay, but once someone is donating large sums of money, they have to be known. Otherwise the risk of undue influence becomes too great. There is no need for a millionaire to be able to donate millions of dollars anonymously.

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