We Don't Need No Citizen Education

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 29 2010 10:04 AM

We Don't Need No Citizen Education

This is obviously the spat of the day, captured in eloquent editorial-ese. So, the Post runs a column by David Axelrod naming Americans for Prosperity as one of the shadowy threats to Democracy, emphasis on the capital "D."

Americans for Prosperity, is funded by billionaire oil men, David andCharles Koch, to promote Republican candidates who support theirright-wing agenda and corporate interests. The group has gone to greatlengths to conceal information about its donors and their motives, butthe New Yorker magazine recently revealed that this group has been quietly guiding the organizing efforts of the Tea Party -- in other words, billionaire oilmen secretly underwriting what thepublic has been told is a grass-roots movement for change inWashington. 

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


Phil Kerpen of AFP responds .

All of AFP's citizen-education efforts -- including our televisionadvertising -- have been bona fide issue advocacy designed to advanceour mission of promoting limited government fiscal and economicpolicies, lower taxes, less spending and less onerous regulation.Because we engage in no electioneering, we have done nothing after theSupreme Court's Citizens United decision that we were not already doing before.

Moreover, the relevant Supreme Court decision that allows us to protectthe privacy of our supporters from forced disclosure is more than 50years old. It was the landmark civil rights case NAACP v. Alabama ,which recognized that forced disclosure would chill the free speechrights of members of organizations like ours by subjecting them topotential retribution. Given the amount of space The Post has dedicatedto spurious attacks on us, that fear of retribution seems particularlywell-founded at the present time.

Look, I'm as happy as anyone that the Kochs can give to political causes without fear of crosses being burned in their lawns, but this is ridiculous. The Post agrees :

No one could accuse the group of being coy about its interest in theNovember results -- starting with its "November Is Coming" bus tour and a petition drive that instructs lawmakers to "oppose big government programs or anyother freedom-killing policies or we will remember in November."

If that's too subtle, consider ads the group is running in about 40 congressional districts, such as this one targeting Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.) : "Betsy voted for cap and trade,the new energy taxes that would cost Colorado thousands of jobs. AndMarkey betrayed us by voting for a government health care plan thatcuts $500 billion from Medicare," the ad warns. "Tell Betsy Markey:'It's time to start working for Colorado again.' " Or this one,attacking Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords: "Tell GabrielleGiffords: Fight for Arizona, not Nancy Pelosi."

AFP's protesting-too-much strategy is pretty easy to see through. Check out the web video they created to pivot off of President Obama's first attack. Notice the rundown of corporate interests who support Democratic policies. Notice the lack of disclosure of who exactly helps AFP combat those interests. Who printed the signs that the citizen activists are hoisting? Who paid for the hotels they're meeting in? We are not informed. 

If disclosure matters for Democrats, it should matter for AFP too. Laughing nervously and pretending to have sprung fully-formed out of a senior citizens' sewing circle is not a response.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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