Some folks to the left of the center line in Rhode Island politics would probably like me a whole lot more if I didn’t get so heated on the subject of campaign finance reform. For much of the last two decades, that subject has been an area of rare agreement between left and right, but the more I’ve thought about it, and the more I’ve observed, the more convinced I’ve become that campaign finance reform actually does a great deal of harm to our country and that its supporters on the right have been suckered.
Among the many benefits of Scott Walker’s push against public-sector labor unions in Wisconsin may be its effect in prodding the left to start leveraging the campaign finance advantage before it was politically wise to do so on the national stage. I’m referring to the infamous “John Doe” investigations, which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere in Rhode Island news media, other than on Anchor Rising-Ocean State Current:
In April, National Review told — for the first time — the stories of the targets of Wisconsin’s “John Doe” investigations. The accounts were harrowing. Anonymous sources told of pre-dawn raids, with police swarming into their homes, walking into sleeping children’s rooms, denying the targets immediate access to lawyers, and then imposing gag orders that prevented them from telling friends, family, and supporters about their ordeal.
These raids were not launched against hardened criminals but against conservative activists, and the “crimes” they were accused of turned out not to be crimes at all. Rather, a hyper-partisan district attorney, John Chisholm, and his special prosecutor, Francis Schmitz, launched a multi-county criminal investigation of First Amendment–protected speech. They wanted to know the extent to which conservative individuals and groups had coordinated with Scott Walker’s campaign — and the campaigns of various state senators — to advocate conservative issues.
On the surface, it sounds like a great idea to increase transparency in politics, down to the donations and spending by every candidate for every office. The problem is that insiders have all of the advantages, on that count, and ruthless people can make better use of the information than moral grassroots volunteers and candidates, whether the ruthlessness manifests as a literal government conspiracy, as in Wisconsin, or merely run-of-the-mill intimidation of donors who back the non-ruthless.