Saturday, April 11, 2015

Should billionaires have to disclose their political contributions?

The Intercept has a story about a billionaire sneaking into a Jeb Bush fundraiser. It points out:
"Bush’s campaign operation has taken steps to conceal the names of certain big-money donors. ... Bush’s Right to Rise also formed a 501(c)(4) issue advocacy wing, which, like a Super PAC, can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money — but unlike a Super PAC, never has to reveal donor names."
This leads me to ask two questions:

  1. Should billionaires be allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money promoting their politics?
  2. If they can spend unlimited amounts, should they be forced to disclose them?

If you know me, you know that I'm asking a trick question. I'm not referring to venture capitalist Ron Conway, the billionaire mentioned the story. I'm instead referring to Pierre Omidyar the billionaire founder of eBay who funds The Intercept, which blatantly promotes his political views such as those on NSA surveillance. Can Omidyar spend endless amounts on The Intercept? Should he be forced to disclose how much?

This question is at the heart of the Supreme Court decision in Citezen's United. It comes down to this: the Supreme Court was unable to craft rules that could tell the difference between what Omidyar was doing with The Intercept, and what Jeb Bush is doing with his Super PAC. Yet, restricting Omidyar is also not an option -- despite being clearly political, he's nonetheless acting like a typical press organization. As they opinion says:
Differential treatment of media corporations and other corporations cannot be squared with the First Amendment, and there is no support for the view that the Amendment’s original meaning would permit suppressing media corporations’ political speech. 
As a libertarian, I think Omidyar should be free to use his slush fund for The Intercept as he pleases, without having to report the amounts. However, I still believe it's in the public interest. Nobody wants to live in a plutocracy, so all info about the rich and powerful is of public interest. If Anonymous doxxes it, or an employees leaks it, then the information is fair game, and should be reported on in exactly the same way that The Intercept discloses the Snowden leaks.

4 comments:

Shane Killian said...

It's very simple: EVERYONE is a press. When our founders wrote the First Amendment, they didn't mean for "the press" to be some government-approved oligarchy with special privileges; just the opposite. Like free speech, freedom of the press was a right guaranteed to ALL, whether you published a newspaper or just handed out hand-printed leaflets.

The Citizens United case simply declared that "the press"--the establishment news media--could no longer claim a monopoly on protected political speech. ALL campaign finance laws violate our free speech and free press rights (and don't do anything to reform elections; in fact, they make it easier for incumbents and more difficult for challengers).

adp113 said...

I'm much more concerned about the non-reportable foreign micro donations that flowed into a certain POTUS campaign in in 2012 and the FECs unwillingness, then and now, to confront that issue. It's easy enough to correct. When you have a sitting POTUS or potential POTUS seeking the donations of foreign citizens, you have some problems, and it's a big problem when foreigners are seeking to influence U.S. elections.

Jeff said...

The biggest problem is that most people seem to have not read nor understood what the SCOTUS ruling actually said nor what it means. For most people, Citizen's United was the SCOTUS selling out to big corporations. Many people say "money isn't speech". I wonder what life would be like if the way that we spend money could be regulated. Cancel that, I don't wonder -- I know. It is frightening.

Shane Killian said...

Exactly, Jeff. If money isn't speech, therefore they can regulate money spent on speech, then money isn't religion, and they can stop churches from buying buildings. Money isn't the press, and they can stop you from buying a newspaper or web hosting. Money isn't assembly, so they can stop you renting a meeting space.

People who say "money isn't speech" just haven't thought things through.