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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Full Disclosure: Intimidation Through Exposure

Rutgers Law School constitutional law professor Frank Askin (who should know better) accuses tea parties seeking 501(c)(4) status of acting "in defiance of the law" for applying for that status.  Under his logic, any group which seeks to engage in issues advocacy and claim a tax-exempt status may be accused of breaking the law -- never mind that these groups are very much following the law by applying for such status under the government's own guidelines. This characterization is wrong, and law professors like Askin know better, but the ad hominem attack and "criminal" label is politically useful.  

The 501(c)(4) status is coveted because it allows for donor anonymity. A glance at today's political climate shows why anonymity is prized. Only look at the demonization of George Soros on the left, and the Koch brothers on the right. And besides: what exactly is wrong with people wanting to be anonymous?

The campaign finance legal framework of our country operates around the one core principle of disclosure.  Contributors to a campaign must disclose their identities. This is done to discourage undue influence of "money in politics." But note the difference between campaign contributions and regular issue advocacy.

People like Askin -- and sadly, many people in the Administration and even the mainstream media -- want to change the law so that anyone engaging in legitimate issues advocacy (think, opposition to ObamaCare) must have their names disclosed.  One suspects that the objective is not to protect the public, to expose possible undue influence, but rather to expose those voicing unpopular opinions to the risk of reprisal (official or otherwise) and hence to chill, penalize or outright deter any opposition participation in public discourse.  

Clearly, advocates of such uber-disclosure ignore the lessons of our Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and even going back to the Constitution which sought to protect minority opinions from government tyranny.  It would be hard to believe any constitutional law professor could mock the concept of "equal protection," except that our current President -- who has set the tone for inconsistent if not politically discriminatory application of government laws, rules and standards -- was also a former constitutional law professor. 

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