Main | Monday, December 29, 2008

Prop 8 Backlash Spurs Calls To End Donation Disclosure Laws

Last month the gays justifiably dug into the public records on who donated to Proposition 8, resulting in protests, boycotts and a handful of people losing their jobs. The haters screamed bloody murder (even though their side used the tactic as well) and now there's a call to repeal laws that require political donations be public. From an op/ed piece in the Wall Street Journal:
Ironically, it has long been minorities who have benefited the most from anonymous speech. In the 1950s, for example, Southern states sought to obtain membership lists of the NAACP in the name of the public's "right to know." Such disclosure would have destroyed the NAACP's financial base in the South and opened its supporters to threats and violence. It took a Supreme Court ruling in NAACP v. Alabama (1958) to protect the privacy of the NAACP and its supporters on First Amendment grounds. And more recently, it has usually been supporters of gay rights who have preferred to keep their support quiet.

There is another problem with publicizing donations in political elections: It tends to entrench powerful politicians whom donors fear alienating. If business executives give money to a committee chairman's opponent, they often fear retribution.

Other threats are more personal. For example, in 2004 Gigi Brienza contributed $500 to the John Edwards presidential campaign. An extremist animal rights group used that information to list Ms. Brienza's home address (and similarly, that of dozens of co-workers) on a Web site, under the ominous heading, "Now you know where to find them." Her "offense," also revealed from the campaign finance records, was that she worked for a pharmaceutical company that tested its products on animals.

In the aftermath of Prop. 8 we can glimpse a very ugly future. As anyone who has had their political yard signs torn down can imagine, with today's easy access to donor information on the Internet, any crank or unhinged individual can obtain information on his political opponents, including work and home addresses, all but instantaneously. When even donations as small as $100 trigger demonstrations, it is hard to know how one will feel safe in supporting causes one believes in.
As much as I want to know where some groups get their money, I'm not sure I entirely disagree. I'm not losing any sleep over the four people known to have lost their jobs versus the 18,000 gay couples who may have their marriages revoked. Boo frickin' hoo. But maybe a middle ground can be struck where only donors above a certain dollar amount are made public. Still, as Pam Spaulding notes, you can bet that Yes On 8 would have gotten even more money from corporations and high-profile people had they not feared being publicly denounced as homophobic.

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