Last night I published this piece about Shaun McCutcheon's victory at the Supreme Court, after talking to the plaintiff about why he sued and how he felt. McCutcheon's putting the finishing touches on a memoir of the case, in which he emphasizes what he emphasizes in every interview—he is a free man with free speech, and to demonize political donors is to demonize the marketplace of ideas.
Right around the time the piece went up, Charles Koch published one of his occasional papal bulls in the Wall Street Journal. In between some PR about the good work Koch Industries does, and the people it employs, and how uninterested it is in rent-seeking, he describes just why his critics are so misguided.
Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinsky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced.
You know who else was a despot in the 20th century? The Charles Koch standard is problematic if you think (like I think) that campaign donations should be uncapped but totally disclosed. That, according to the donors (though not McCutcheon himself), leads to character assassination. Donors have a First Amendment right to give money, but their opponents flout that right when they criticize them. Why? That's an excellent question.
And it's only one tier of a larger PR campaign. American Encore, formerly the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and still a conduit of donations from the Koch network, has been running ads against Democrats who want campaign finance limits to shame them for working against "free speech."* Jim Geraghty gets the topline numbers from a poll they commissioned in Minnesota, where Sen. Al Franken lacks a serious opponent but has been fundraising off a pledge to "end Citizens United." The poll finds only 40 percent of the state itching to re-elect Franken, but more importantly, it finds that "among all respondents, in order, 50% think freedom of speech is the most important, followed by 25% for freedom of religion, 6% for freedom of the press, 4% for the right to assemble, and 3% for the right to petition." Can we intuit that the voters who said "freedom of speech" were thinking about the freedom to spend money in campaigns, with or without disclosing it? We're certainly supposed to!
At the same time, as I write in last night's story, conservative donors and pundits are spending more time trying to do to Democratic megadonors what the left has done to the Kochs. To wit:
Unlimited campaign money, the rise of American oligarchs, a flood of new laws to discourage voting. All bad signs for our democracy.— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) April 3, 2014
*Correction, April 3, 2014: This post originally misidentified the Center to Protect Patient Rights as the Center for Patient Rights.