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The ‘people’ should know who’s paying for the ‘people’s convention’

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THE DEMOCRATS are the party of transparency — at least in theory. Their party platform repeatedly mentions “the necessity of transparency” for good government, they’ve pushed for legislation that would require groups to disclose their donors and they’ve continued to hound their Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, for refusing to release more tax returns. President Obama, unlike Mr. Romney so far, has disclosed the names of his big-ticket campaign finance bundlers.

So how to explain that the host committee of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte — calling itself the “people’s convention” — is refusing to release the identity of donors to the event before it starts? This marks a shift from the committee’s earlier pledge to disclose donors “on an ongoing basis.” As The Post’s T.W. Farnam reported last week, the committee will keep that information secret until Oct. 15, when federal disclosure documents are due, more than a month after the convention ends.

There’s nothing illegal about this; the Democrats will still be complying with the guidelines of the Federal Election Commission. But they will have broken their own promise. Although various corporate sponsors adorn the Republicans’ convention Web site, they’re also not filing until Oct. 15. The Democrats, however, have claimed for themselves the moral high ground.

From almost any vantage point, the hypocrisy here is unavoidable. Campaign ads frequently target Mr. Romney’s refusal to disclose his tax returns with questions like these: “Did Romney pay 10 percent in taxes? 5 percent? Zero? We don’t know.” Those are legitimate questions that warrant answers, but the Democrats’ refusal to disclose their own convention donations undermines their standing to ask them. For no explained reason, the host committee has chosen to add those donors to the list of things “we don’t know” as we head into the thick of campaign season. The so-called “people’s convention” has already refused donations from corporate sponsors and paid the price (the festivities in Charlotte, for instance, will last only three days instead of the usual four). In that sense, would releasing the donors’ identities really be that embarrassing? Is this an issue worth sacrificing credibility for?

In the meantime, stop pretending that this convention will be, in the words of its marketing department, the “most open and accessible ever.” A true “people’s convention” wouldn’t have anything to hide.

© The Washington Post Company