Disclosure and the Separation of Politics from Life


During a Twitter debate online concerning campaign finance and anonymous donations to think tanks and the like, Public’s Radio reporter Ian Donnis summarized his perspective thus:

Entities with millions to drown out their opponent is ‘part of an open & free democracy’? OK then!

That’s what the best interpretation of the pro-donor-disclosure point of view comes down to.  As Mike Stenhouse noted in the thread, the other side of the coin is that the people who donate those “millions” to such organizations aren’t only, or even mainly, the powerful rich, and disclosing donors is a way to allow targeted political campaigns against them.

The fact is that people whose views are not in line with the progressive mainstream narrative do have an entirely reasonable and well-substantiated fear that their political donations will make them targets for activists.  This possibility — and the countless iterations that occur on lower levels — strikes at the heart of our democracy.

Carry the logic out a bit: Why not identify every person’s ballot and make it public, in the name of transparency?

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We manage peace in a diverse and free society because we separate out politics from other areas of life.  If donating to a particular candidate or cause puts my family or business under threat, then our society is no longer answering political questions through a discrete set of rules.  We can no longer have our political contests and then return to other interactions with maximum cooperation.

But isn’t using wealth to political advantage a violation of the principle that politics should be a separate matter?  Perhaps in a manner of speaking, but there are all sorts of ways to have disproportionate influence in politics based on other areas of our lives — whether because of a job in media, family connections, affiliation with a government labor union, or whatever — and we can’t root all of them out of politics.  Moreover, our personal interests obviously influence the public policy that we prefer, and it would be plainly tyrannical to prevent people from voting according to their interests, from wherever they derive.

So, we should be hesitant to limit different types of influence, so as to maintain balance, while striving to keep those sources of power from being used by citizens against each other outside the intermediary of politics.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “Getting the money out of politics” has an appeal, but practicality has long superseded it. I once knew an older guy, now long deceased, who was a Mass congressman in, I think, the 50’s (Larry Curtis, look him up). In any case he refused donations to his campaign on the theory it might influence him. Let’s look at that. In the 50’s a Congressional campaign cost $10-12,000, probably 2, or 3, Cadillacs in those days (he could afford that, but drove a ’55 Chevy into the 80’s). What price now? Who could afford to run with restricted donations. Otherwise, Justin’s point is well taken. I don’t think we have been so politically divided since the ante bellum period before the “War of Northern Aggression”. Look where that got us.

  • ShannonEntropy

    There is already “disclosure” of political donations. I had to fill out a disclosure form with my name address occupation and employer [ none in my case ] when I donated a hunnerd bucks to my former neighbor Sue Stenhouse’s Warwick mayoral campaign last year. [ She had a nice buffet but a cash bar at the event…. a cash bar !! C’mon, Sue !! ]

    And when Mrs Entropy & I both donated 4 figures to the RNC to attend an RNC dinner meeting in DC where Trump was the headline speaker, we had to go thru “security clearance” level disclosure. Not to mention the beyond-TSA physical security to get in the room

    So boo!hoo!hoo! Leftist groups… No data for you !! What would you do it anyways ??

    I agree with Justin that the neo-Nazi Left & “antifa” want this data to “dox” us… or much, much worse. Have you ever noticed that doxxing is a weapon used exclusively by the Left

    Why do you think I use a “handle” here ?? On other blogs and web sites where I keep up with what’s going in my professional field, I use my RL name

    Getting doxxed here might be a disaster. When I Google my name it’s incredible the amount of personal & professional info on there, down to my date of birth, my address, and a photo of my home for anyone who might be inner-rested in vandalizing it. When we attended a Trump rally in Portland ME in 2016, I was interviewed and photographed by the local paper… both the article with my quotes and my photo are there in case someone wants to make sure they donut assault the wrong person

    I think Louis Brandeis had it right; and “The Right To Be Left Alone” trumps the left’s right to harass me

  • bagida’wewinini

    Secret ballots are very different from secret contributions so I think you are either far off base or trying to muddy the waters when you suggest the logical extension of requiring disclosure of large political contributions should lead to disclosure of individuals voting preferences. Efforts to make sure only registered voters can vote is all that really matters to most people. But on the other hand the real threat to our democracy is the efforts by those with vast amounts of money to influence not only elections but also public policy. Transparency would inform us of those in service to us in their governmental roles and their possible conflicts from accepting large contributions. There is also the question of foreign interference. Your own administration along with Trumps attorney general acknowledged that foreign interference is a problem. The NRA , a huge contributor, was courted by the Russians with some of the top people in that organization taking junkets to the motherland recently. So yes I for one would like to see us get more information on the so called dark money that is influencing domestic policy and politics. If it is all above board why should we not know the source of money and let the chips fall where they may. There are laws on the books right now that would be applied if harassment or assaults targeted those who disclosed their political contributions.

    • Christopher C. Reed

      Riiiight. “Brendan Eich”

      • bagida’wewinini

        Thanks got it

    • ShannonEntropy

      There are laws on the books right now that would be applied if harassment or assaults targeted those who disclosed their political contributions.

      To quote Benjamin Franklin:

      “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

    • Rhett Hardwick

      “The NRA , a huge contributor, was courted by the Russians”
      How the mighty have fallen. When I was a kid, the NRA was a “sportsman’s organization”, not widely known. At 13 I would wait with bated breath for the arrival of that month’s “American Rifleman” and pore over articles on “grouping” for high velocity ammo. It was a proud belief that “No NRA member had ever committed a felony with a weapon” (true, or not ???, it was a point of pride). Each month there was a “column” “The Armed Citizen” reprinting news paper articles about old ladies holding off assailants in their bedrooms, with a 1911.

      Up until the 1970’s, there were practically no “gun laws” that effected “sportsmen”. America was not in flames and “mass shootings” seemed rare. I think I have posted here before that, at age 13, I needed a “note from my mother” to buy ammunition. That because the owner of the hardware store was “cautious”.