Leave My Millionaire Alone
Conservatives are decrying efforts to get donors to disclose their campaign contributions as a thuggish threat to free speech. Really?
According to Phillips, the left hates rich donors because they’re rich. You can certainly find some bilious left-wingers who feel that way. Roll tape of one of the Occupy protests that got meta-occupied by Black Bloc anarchists in kaffiyeh chokers. Listen to the audience applause for a Colbert Report segment about Mitt’s car elevator and Ann’s dancing horse. Read Atlas Shrugged again. “The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably,” says Ayn Rand’s copper mining scion Francisco d’Anconia. “The man who respects it has earned it.”
Ah, but if only every donor was an Ayn Rand character. They’d give better speeches—real stemwinders, sentences running on sentences like a babbling country stream. They also wouldn’t want anything from the government. We can’t say that for every donor, can we? That’s why we want to know who they are. One example: We know a lot about George Kaiser, the Tulsa multimillionaire who bundled for the Obama campaign and subsequently used White House meetings to convince people that Solyndra would pay off if it got the right-sized loan guarantee. If we didn’t read about him in Carol Leonning’s stories for the Washington Post, we could have seen the Americans for Prosperity ads about him. “Solyndra investors raise campaign money for Obama,” sighed AFP’s narrator. “The government gives half a billion dollars in taxpayer money. Politics as usual.”
The point of the ad is that wealthy people sometimes give to campaigns, exercising a few million points of free speech, because they want to influence how the government moves money around. A green energy investor might donate to Democrats who think green energy will save Gaia. Somebody on week 97 of unemployment might vote for the candidate who extends unemployment insurance. A brown energy investor probably wants Barack Obama to lose so that a new EPA and Interior Department will lay off already with the regulations.
Nah, strike that—they’re probably just operating in enlightenment and good faith. The American Action Network, the latest group to join this campaign against disclosure, produced a web ad that starts with images of D-Day—“heroes fought and died for our rights”—and shows the First Amendment literally vanishing, like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, as McConnell warns of the Obama threats.
But there’s no evidence that Obama is using the tools of government—as opposed to PR and speeches—to attack his enemies. Gavin Aronson points out that liberal-leaning good-government groups like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Campaign Finance Center have asked the IRS to investigate 501(c)(4)s that enjoy preferred tax status and use it for “educational” campaigns that are basically just Obama-phobic infomercials. That’s more than the administration’s tried to do, at a time when Super PACs are battering it with ads.
At AEI, the only privacy leak cited by McConnell was that “IRS information found its way into the hands of a staunch critic on the left who also happens to be a co-chairman of President Obama’s re-election committee.” This was an oddly veiled reference to the National Organization for Marriage, not a tycoon, and the leak-promoter was the Human Rights Campaign. The only organizational threat was an “IRS decision revoking the tax-exempt status of small political nonprofit groups that undoubtedly foreshadows an effort to do the same to bigger groups on the right that the Obama administration regards as a threat to its campaign.” The group: Just one, a Democratic candidate-training combine called Emerge America.
Nixing a tax break, or checking whether or not a group deserves the tax break, or asking who funds it—it’s all a “thuggish” threat to free speech. Apparently, the difference between an ad that says “paid for by Sheldon Adelson” and an ad that keeps it quiet is a jackboot stomping on a human face.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.