This week the United States Senate rejected the Disclose Act, a piece of legislation designed to reveal who is behind the funding that fuels our election system.
Often in life, disclosure is a good thing. There are few more liberating sensations than being honest. The pressure of keeping a secret is intense, which is why the saying “getting something off your chest” expresses so well the deliverance one feels in being honest and open.
When I was a lobbyist, honesty and openness were the last things we wanted. In fact, we went to pains to avoid disclosing vital information about our efforts. If we had been permitted, we would have kept secret who hired us, what they paid, what bills we were lobbied, who were we were lobbying, what we gave them and what they did for us. In those days, if we had a magic wand, we would have created a world of secrecy that would bring smiles to Tammany Hall.
But, as much as other lobbyists and I wanted to reveal nothing, we couldn’t because of the rules in the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Often we pushed the envelope and sometimes busted through its seams, but even with our less-than-pure inclinations, the LDA forced us to disclose most of what we were doing.
After the fall from my lobbying perch, I reconsidered a lot of my past world, including this preternatural desire not to reveal a thing. I came to the conclusion that there were few things in the political world that would not be better if disclosed. With an enterprise like the federal government – and fortunately for our nation, there are no other enterprises quite like the federal government – non-national-security secrets are not a usually good thing.
Keeping information from the people of this nation enables the elites in Washington to invade our lives, diminish our fortunes and devalue our sacred honor. The more disclosure, the better. That’s why, in theory at least, I was a big supporter of the Disclose Act.
I believe if someone is spending money to impact our elections, we should know about it. Unlike some of my new friends in the reform movement, though, I am completely in favor of every citizen spending whatever they wish in the political process – unless they are trying to buy something from the government with those expenditures.
I have based my new political activities on combating that which I did so well in my past: using money to influence results in government. I realize now that it was wrong of me to wield money in that way, since, ultimately, any conveyance of a financial interest to a public servant – whether it’s in a sack of cash or an envelope of campaign contribution checks – is really nothing more than a bribe.
But, as far as citizens who don’t use their money to bribe public officials to do their personal bidding, I am in favor of unlimited giving as an expression of free speech. It doesn’t bother me that I am incapable of speaking with my money as loudly as Bill Gates can with his. He has earned more money than I. Therefore, he can shout where I can only whisper. I am fine with that. If I wanted to change it, I would need to earn more money. If I can’t, well, “them’s the breaks.”
Other than in a Karl Marx treatise, we are not all the same, and we don’t have the same resources. And I don’t think any state should try to force correct this imbalance. As far as I am concerned, someone could give away a trillion dollars – which, before Obama, used to be a lot of money – as long as we know who they are. I want to know who’s speaking to me, whether with their voice or with their money. I don’t like discussions with all-powerful Oz, the man behind the curtain.
In theory, few Americans would argue against disclosure. Yet, the U.S. Senate just voted against disclosure. Why?
The opponents of the Disclose Act are, for the most part, Republicans. Are they really against disclosure? Are they mere shills for the so-called fat cats, allegedly out to buy our political system? To hear the Democrats rant, one would think so. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even had the temerity to claim that, if the Senate did not pass the Disclose Act, “the day after the election, 17 angry, old white men will wake up and realize they’ve just bought the country.”
Like so many other political issues, this one quickly became ugly. But, if one does not buy into the piffle that Republicans are evil nondisclosure drones, how does one account for their opposition to the Disclose Act?
Of great concern to Republicans was the fact that the act was “written in secrecy, placed on calendar without a single hearing, and taken to the floor without a mark-up,” according to a key Senate aide quoted on the website Freebeacon.com. “Not exactly usual process in the Senate.”
Additionally, opponents were appalled that the bill “contains special carve outs for union bosses and other favored interest groups,” according to moderate Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
But more ominous and compelling than the procedural and carve out problems in the bill is the dread that many conservatives feel when their opposition to the administration’s policies and politics lands them in the crosshairs of the federal police state. Not a week goes by without a conservative donor reporting new instances of harassment. Sometimes it’s congressional committee investigation. Often we hear that conservatives are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service or investigated by some other agency of federal authority.
Conservative leaders genuinely believe that liberals in power use the state to harass their donors and supporters. It may not occur as frequently as feared, but there are few who would doubt that it has happened in the past. Using governmental power as a bludgeon against your political opponents is shameful and illegal, but, just as bad, those shortsighted tyrants who have abused governmental authority to pursue political vendettas against their opponents have birthed a pervasive and well-founded fear among conservatives that new disclosure provisions would likely be used to harass conservative donors and, ultimately, bankrupt conservative organizations, candidates and causes. It is these truculent malefactors who have defeated the Disclose Act, by their perfidy and rapacity, not the Republican senators who fear their free speech will cost many citizens their freedom. The Disclose Act is a vital piece of the reform puzzle, but no American should be expected to hand his enemy the sword with which to slay him.
The Disclose Act needs to issue from an honest and fair legislative process, or it will be forever tainted. Union bosses – those zaftig Democratic benefactors – should not receive a loophole allowing them to escape the revelations required of the rest of us. But, most importantly, when the act next makes its appearance on the scene, it must contain harsh provisions criminalizing the dastardly use of disclosed information to harass the ruling party’s political opponents. No longer should government employees hide under the color of authority when engaged in this contemptuous behavior.
If conservatives believe their free speech won’t result in the extinguishing of their other constitutional rights and freedoms, they can be counted on leading the way for the Disclose Act. It’s up to liberals to decide whether they want open and honest government – or just the end of their political opposition. They can’t have both.