Columnist Ruth Marcus opines after the scandal of the IRS targeting conservative groups that the IRS should be tougher on political groups, because its “lassitude… is creating a gusher of dark money” in politics. Marcus subscribes to the commonly held opinion that political speech should be limited and people should not be able to contribute money anonymously to finance political ads. She describes anonymous money as being “dark money.”
I was not aware that any money was “dark money” or bad money. I thought it all was just plain old money.
Why shouldn’t our right to free speech include the right to speak anonymously and donate anonymously to finance political ads?
We have a long tradition of anonymous political speech in this country. Would our revolution have been possible without Thomas Paine’s anonymous pamphlets? And how about Benjamin Franklin’s political articles published under a pseudonym? Sometimes the only way to speak unpopular truths with any degree of safety is to do so anonymously.
It is not uncommon for people to be afraid to identify themselves when they speak out for fear that they will be persecuted. This is not a crazy notion of paranoid “voices” of people wearing tin-foil hats. It is very real today, just as it was during our country’s early history.
As just one example, people who helped finance ads in California in favor of Proposition 8 were targeted for threats of violence (and some real violence), had their businesses shut down, and were forced out of their jobs thanks to the campaign finance laws’ reporting requirements that identified them, including their home addresses and places of employment.
Because the reporting requirements of our current campaign finance laws put people at real, serious risk of abuse, they stifle free speech and thereby promote the very corruption that they were designed to prevent.
In the days before campaign finance laws, which were supposed to “clean up politics” and get rid of “dark money”, was our government ever as corrupt as it is today?
The “Teapot Dome” scandal was nothing compared to the numerous crony capitalist scandals of today, with Solyndra being just one example. The Watergate cover-up scandal was nothing compared with the coverups we are seeing in the current administration, which has covered up a gun-running scheme that resulted in hundreds of murders in Mexico, has lied about the circumstances surrounding the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, has tried to whitewash the abusive treatment of conservative groups by the IRS, has tried to intimidate AP sources, and much more.
Clearly, the campaign finance laws have not cleaned up politics and likely have increased corruption rather than decreasing it.
Our founders tried to protect our right to free speech in the Constitution, because they knew that a free flow of ideas would help protect us against political corruption and abuse. They were right. While a real free flow of ideas may not be all sweetness and light, it is far better than what happens when ideas and voices are stifled and not allowed to flow freely.
There would even be some advantages to anonymous speech in that people would have to deal with the ideas on their merits instead of just attacking the speaker. They would have to consider whether the statements being made are true and whether the arguments make sense and could not just rely on groupthink and on demonizing various groups of people. Of course, if the advertisement has an anonymous source, people would treat it with more skepticism than if it were from a trusted source. People would have to develop their own analytical tools, which would be very healthy.
Our campaign finance laws mainly serve to protect the insider elites and corrupt politicians from people who otherwise would speak out against them. How could we ever support such laws with a clear conscience?
If we really want to take a step in the right direction, we need to restore real freedom of speech.
It is time to get rid of all reporting requirements and all limits on spending for political speech. Let all people speak out as they wish, including anonymously, just as they did throughout most of our nation’s history. Only then will the free market of ideas flourish, allowing people to shine a light on corruption and to promote policies that may not be popular with the ruling elites.
Theresa Camoriano is a patent attorney in Louisville KY and facilitates a local 912 group.