Monday, July 22, 2013

Making Private Donations Anonymously is a Right

In my post of May 20, 2013, Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked, I argued that financial contributors to political issue advocacy groups have an inalienable right to remain anonymous. The issue has surfaced in this year's New Jersey gubernatorial race between Republican incumbent Governor Chris Christie and Democrat State Senator Barbara Buono.

One correspondent, mpcarrollr25, asked in relation to the issue of undisclosed donations to political advocacy groups: "Does the identity of the messenger impact the merits of the message?" He then proceeded to explain why it does not:

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know who's behind the anti-Christie adds: people who favor Big Government or make their living from it. So what? The merits of the ideas they advance . . . should stand on their own.
Put simply, the message is true, or not, regardless of the identity of the financiers thereof. 

mpcarrollr25 gets to the heart of the matter, from a practical perspective. I replied, "No. You are spot-on, mp. Those who focus on who is speaking as opposed to what is being said are evading the responsibility of taking a stand on the issues."

Another correspondent, however, replied "yes," saying "It helps to identify bias and conflicts of interest. If a person is advocating for a law that will benefit the company they own or the industry they work in, wouldn't that affect your impression of what they say?"

Leaving aside his unfortunate negative reference to selfishness--a subject for another day--mpcarrollr25 responded nicely. His comments in full:

If someone is making minimum wage and wants a governmentally mandated increase, or is gay and advocates for gay marriage, he might be legitimately accused of advocating selfishly. But if one makes same arguments anonymously, the merits of the assertions cannot be so easily dismissed as the mere products of bias or self interest. Put differently if one doesn't know the messenger, one needs to address the merits of the message rather than dismiss it as the product of self interest or launch an ad hominem attack on the messenger. We would be better served if we dealt with the merits of a particular proposal rather than concerning ourselves overmuch with the identity of the messenger. (The NRA or the NJEA might, perchance, be right occasionally, and the substance of the argument rather than the identity of the advocate should be our focus.) [Note; I corrected several misspellings.]

I couldn't have explained the practical case for the right to make anonymous contributions better than mpcarrollr25. He exposes the emptiness of the argument for disclosure laws, which would violate free speech rights to no practical benefit whatsoever.

Related Reading:

Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked

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