In her debut, a Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member excoriates the left’s use of campaign finance laws to stifle free speech and free association.
On First Amendment grounds, the 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision overturned a number of federal campaign spending restrictions. Nevertheless, overlooking a noble American tradition of anonymous participation in politics stretching back to the Federalist Papers, the court left undisturbed a number of forced disclosure provisions seemingly at odds with a 1958 decision denying Alabama’s attempt to require disclosure of the state NAACP’s membership/donor list and another in 1995, striking down an Ohio statute prohibiting anonymous campaign literature. Citizens United fueled activists’ outrage at the continued influence of “special interests” and the power of “dark money” in our politics. Under the banner of “transparency,” “cleaner,” “more open” elections, activists have used the forced disclosure provisions to harass, humiliate, and threaten critics and to discourage political participation and speech. These, writes the author, are the hallmarks of “the modern intimidation game.” Her fiery, thoroughly reported, three-part story focuses on the IRS targeting and obstructing—under notorious apparatchik Lois Lerner—applications by tea party related groups for tax exempt status; the appalling tactics attending Wisconsin’s gubernatorial 2012 recall election; and the widespread use of the proxy movement and boycotts to disrupt corporate governance and blackmail business. Running through each tale are common themes: government agencies who, either out of righteous institutional bias or ideological agreement, conspire with activists to advance their agendas; the supercharging effect of the Internet and social media that makes these modern retribution campaigns so much easier and effective; and the genuine damage done to individuals, groups, and businesses who never dreamed they would pay such a price for exercising their rights to speech and assembly.
An eye-opening lesson in the law of unintended consequences: where “a vast new disclosure regime” intended to curb corruption has spawned a corruption all its own.