Opinionated @ CFE

The Double-Edged Sword of Campaign Finance Disclosure


The secret ballot is one of our more cherished rights as U.S. citizens. We can freely cast a ballot for the candidate of our choosing without fear of retaliation. Until, that is, we support a candidate with more than our time and our vote. Once you decide to hand over your hard-earned dollars to a candidate that you have particularly strong feelings about, you can kiss that anonymous vote goodbye and be ready for the backlash. The public certainly has a right to know who is financing a candidate’s campaign, but have we thrown the secret ballot under the bus to get it?

A very good example comes from several years ago in a judicial race in Las Vegas. After the campaign had come to a close, the victor grabbed the financial disclosure records of her defeated opponent and started calling them up to solicit campaign donations. Many of those donors reported feeling like they were being subtly threatened by these calls. There was an unspoken implication, imagined or real, that if they didn’t start getting their dollars behind the winning horse, they could have problems if they ended up in her courtroom. Given some of the rather checkered history of judicial ethics in the Silver State, it would be hard to see otherwise.

A more recent example is the backlash against donors in favor of California’s Proposition 8. People who were identified as donors were repeatedly intimidated and had their homes and cars vandalized. A music director in Sacramento was forced to resign from his job not because of his job performance, illegal conduct, or an ethical breach. It was because he dared contribute $1,000 (a small amount of the total $38M or so spent) to support passage of the proposition. The message was clear: support an issue we do not and you will be made to pay for it. If that’s not voter intimidation, I don’t know what is.

These are just two examples in which the public’s right to know ended up being a proverbial ammo box against individuals’ ballot box. While Utah allows some smaller donations to remain anonymous, the bar is set at a very low $50. Anyone wanting to give any greater support could face repercussions such as harassment by neighbors, being targeted by a rival campaign, or even loss of employment. While a big contributor like Qwest can certainly defend itself, Bob Q. Contractor could suffer a big loss in business and true financial hardship. That’s mobocracy, not democracy, and it is absolutely anti-American.

We all want to know what contributors are pulling the strings with our elected officials before we cast a ballot, but we had better be mindful that our right to know, if abused, can stifle the political process and unduly harm individuals. I don’t know that there is a way to prevent these witch hunts and still satisfy the pubic good, but we can certainly commit ourselves to denounce such misguided actions.

8 Responses to The Double-Edged Sword of Campaign Finance Disclosure

  1. Very interesting. I agree that it seems like the only way to protect against this kind of abuse is to denounce it when it happens.

  2. The far greater harm would be to allow those who have made large contributions to either a political campaign or to a political cause to remain anonymous. If there is a backlash against those who have donated by those who don’t agree with their views there are laws to cope with that.

    In the case of the music director, his generous support of Prop. 8 was seen as an affront to the members of the GLBT community who were longtime employees and supporters of the theater. It seems like so many other members of the LDS Church in California he took his “marching orders” from the church headquarters in Salt Lake and made his donation. Perhaps had he considered the rights and feelings of those with whom he had worked for so many years, he might have avoided leaving himself open for such criticism. In my opinion, he made his choice and now must deal with the results of that choice.

  3. The music director lost his job simply because he was a supporter of proposition 8. You don’t see any injustice there? You don’t see any room for abuse there? I’m certain that had the shoe been on the other foot, you would have.

  4. That’s specifically why I chose two different examples of disclosures being used for purposes of voter intimidation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it would appear that Mr. Talcott approves of forcing people from their employment for their political stances.

  5. You are wrong Jesse. Please read the article that you posted a link to. Eckern wasn’t “forced” to do anything.

    Scott Eckern was quoted as saying, “I am leaving California Musical Theater after prayerful consideration to protect the organization and to help the healing in the local theater-going and creative community.”

    The company’s executive producer, Richard Lewis, said Tuesday that the company doesn’t share Eckern’s views. However, Lewis said Wednesday that in no way was he forced to resign.

    The fact is that Mr. Eckern had the right to express his views by donating $1000 to support proposition 8. Those who felt that their rights were taken away by that proposition had the same right to voice their opposition to that view by boycotting the theater that employed Mr. Eckern as the artistic director.

    In my view, the real injustice was a religion working so hard to deny civil rights to others who do not share their beliefs. I believe the real abuse was the Utah based LDS church misusing its power and authority by directing its resources in time and money to control the outcome of another state’s election.

    Scott Eckern made his choice and needs to be man enough to accept the consequences of that choice. The LDS Church made its choice and needs to accept the negative consequences that have accompanied that choice around the nation and throughout the world.

    If the LDS church had the wisdom to simply define marriage for only its own members and adopt a live and let live attitude with the rest of the world, then these problems would cease to exist.

  6. So to turn this on its head, if your voucher-supporting employer and coworkers harassed you into quitting because you gave money to voucher oppoents, that’s cool too, right?

    You are, as usual, focusing on the wrong part of the story. The greater point is that campaign finance disclosures are meant for information, not retaliation in any way, shape, or form. That’s something I thought everyone could get behind.

  7. Who are you to instruct me on which part of the story I need to focus on? What arrogance. You also show the same arrogance when everyone doesn’t jump to agree with your narrow view of the world.

    Retaliation is an overly broad word. Obviously to retaliate using physical violence, vandalism, destruction of property would be not only wrong but against the law. To respond by using boycotts, demonstrations, writing letters, etc. is a function of free speech and is an accepted form of voicing a grievance in our society. Anyone who votes or supports a proposition that takes rights away from others in society for whatever reason need to quit being crybabies when the consequences of that choice come back to them.

    Thank goodness for disclosure laws. Overstock.com will never see a dime of my money so long as I live after the voucher vote. That’s not retaliation, that’s voting with my wallet.

  8. So I take it that you would be totally ok with losing your job on account of your opposition to vouchers?

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