Now Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have introduced legislation that would — without limiting a single act of political speech — promote disclosure, sunlight and disinfectant. Not a single Republican has signed on.
Sen. Mitch (“Republicans are in favor of disclosure”) McConnell offered several explanations and a whole school of red herrings Friday in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, but the essence was this: Now the First Amendment guarantees not only unlimited donations but unlimited secret donations, too. Otherwise, he argued, freedom of association is threatened.
Editor of The Post’s editorial page, Hiatt also writes a biweekly column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog.
But the DISCLOSE Act doesn’t threaten freedom of association. It would allow the NAACP, if it wanted to engage in election activities, to set up a separate bank account to fund them. The names of anyone giving more than $10,000 to that account would be disclosed; anyone giving to support the rest of the organization’s mission would be, as always, protected.
McConnell complained that the bill wouldn’t affect unions. But the bill doesn’t discriminate; it’s just that unions don’t get their money in secret installments of $100,000 or $1 million.
And McConnell fretted that disclosure of “independent” expenditures would subject conservative donors to harassment. Yet he still claims to support disclosure of donations to campaigns, which presumably opens the same risks of being called mean names by liberals. Maybe even McConnell isn’t ready to break entirely from Justice Antonin Scalia’s argument in Doe v. Reed in 2010.
“There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance,” Scalia wrote. “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.”
Democracy is endangered, too, if politicians cannot hold to principle equally when it’s politically beneficial and when it’s not. Disclosure may soon come up for a vote in the Senate. Will any Republicans have the civic courage to remember where they stood a few years back?