Politics and Money: Transparency and Privacy
(Or, the presentation of self in everyday donations)
So I’ve had a series of fairly political posts about election finance, and in one of them, I said “I’d prefer that the rules avoidance be minimized, and I think transparency is the most promising approach there.”
Well, in the interests of transparency, I need to comment a little in the wake of a lawsuit in California over transparency and Proposition 8. Two stories: “Marriage Ban Donors Feel Exposed by List:”
“Some gay activists have organized Web sites to actively encourage people to go after supporters of Proposition 8,” said Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage, the leading group behind the proposition. “And giving these people a map to your home or office leaves supporters of Proposition 8 feeling especially vulnerable. Really, it is chilling.”
and today, “Prop. 8 campaign can’t hide donors’ names.”
Setting aside all the irony of proponents of an initiative suing to overturn law passed under another initiative, the law was the law when they made their donations. What did they think was going to happen?
But it’s not all that simple. There’s a strong argument for allowing proponents of unpopular causes to organize themselves in a way which is free of reprisals. For allowing them privacy. There’s important privacy law in NACCP vs Alabama, about the right to associate privately for political change.
On the one hand, I think that privacy is an important right, and should not be subjected to harsh tests. (Had Alamaba prevailed, death by lynching was a likely outcome for at least some of the people on the list. I don’t want to see private association subject to a grievous harm sort of test.)
On the other hand, those who want to take away the rights of others should perhaps be asked to air their public policy beliefs in public. If they can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
On the gripping hand, this raises a hard tradeoff. What should we do? (Whatever we should do, we should keep it civil as we discuss it.)
[Update: Part of the reason I reference NAACP vs. Alabama was to allude to the fact that sometimes the unpopular speech is speech against government. The NAACP fought to keep their membership private because they knew that the Alabama government was lousy with Klan members. Had the list been turned over, members would have been murdered. That in this case, we might see anti-harrassment laws enforced is not an argument against the general need for privacy for those with unpopular views.]