The Transparency Trap

Following plaintiff Shaun McCutcheon’s victory in the campaign finance reform case, several conservatives have hailed him as a hero. Certainly, he was on the right side of the issue of campaign donation limits, but like many he still doesn’t get the heart of the free speech issue and the current political climate. 

McCutcheon told Slate’s Dave Weigel, “I’m in favor of transparency and knowing where the donations come from. If you’re really doing free speech, and you’re willing to spread ideas, you should be in favor of transparency. Donating to campaigns? That should be disclosed, if it’s above $100.” 

Conservatives have long been proponents of transparency in government spending, while those on the Left used taxpayer dollars to fund pet projects that would fail in the free market, like solar energy and electric cars. Conservatives laughed (as did some in the media) when the President Obama insisted his “is the most transparent administration in history.” 

Now those demonizing right-leaning donors want to take up the banner of transparency. They’ve latched on to McCutcheon’s comments as if the Obama Administration and his presidential campaigns never happened. In a perfect world, transparency in political and issue advocacy campaigns would be great. However, the Left, particularly the IRS and Obama’s presidential campaign, have made it a point to go after right-leaning organizations and donors. 

In April 2012, an email from the Obama presidential campaign’s “Truth Team” singled out eight private citizens who were donors to Mitt Romney’s campaign. The email said, “A closer look at…donors reveals a group of wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records. Quite a few have been on the wrong side of the law, others have made profits at the expense of so many Americans…” 

The names were also tweeted out by the Truth Team’s Twitter account. Rory Cooper of The Heritage Foundation wrote

This follows a multi-year effort by the ongoing Obama campaign to vilify specific donors to competing philosophical causes and demands that organizations release lawfully protected donor lists or donors reveal lawfully private and personal financial information. 

In each of these instances, President Obama has relied on a vast grassroots network to coerce, bully, boycott and vilify individuals lawfully taking part in the political process, just as his own donors and supporters are freely allowed to engage. 

We now know that the Left isn’t just vilifying conservative donors and organizations. They are also using the punitive power of government to go after donors’ businesses. In July 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that the IRS and the Labor Department sent letters to Frank VanderSloot, one of the donors listed on Obama’s hit list. From the Wall Street Journal: 

In a letter dated June 21, he was informed that his tax records had been “selected for examination” by the Internal Revenue Service. The audit also encompasses Mr. VanderSloot’s wife, and not one, but two years of past filings (2008 and 2009). 

Mr. VanderSloot, who is 63 and has been working since his teens, says neither he nor his accountants recall his being subject to a federal tax audit before. He was once required to send documents on a line item inquiry into his charitable donations, which resulted in no changes to his taxes. But nothing more–that is until now, shortly after he wrote a big check to a Romney-supporting Super PAC. 

Two weeks after receiving the IRS letter, Mr. VanderSloot received another–this one from the Department of Labor. He was informed it would be doing an audit of workers he employs on his Idaho-based cattle ranch under the federal visa program for temporary agriculture workers. 

Louis Bacon, another donor targeted by the Obama campaign, said, “It is un-American and irresponsible for a president to target individual, law-abiding citizens for political retribution, and it is inconceivable that any U.S. agency would stoop to do the bidding for this campaign’s silliness.” 

It’s time to stop pretending that transparency is a fix for money in political and issue campaigns. The Obama Administration’s actions prove that free speech and support of conservative causes is no longer safe. They want transparency in order to intimidate conservatives into not participating in the political process and to create an even longer “Enemies List.” 

Just yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “It’s shameful that Koch money has made its way into our nation’s capital.” 

Likewise, Senator Reid has attacked the new organization, American Encore, calling it a “puppet organization” because it is calling out Senator Reid and Senator Al Franken for their attacks on free speech. (Full disclosure: I work for the organization’s founder, Sean Noble.) 

Clearly, Senator Reid doesn’t really think transparency is the solution. He and other Democrats won’t stop until conservatives and the organizations and ideas they support are extinguished.