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WSJ op-ed: Prop 8 backlash shows need to change donor disclosure laws

By pams
Monday, December 29, 2008 11:00 EDT
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You knew this was coming — those who donated to help pass Proposition 8 are angry that boycotts and actions were taken to publicize their decision to foment bigotry. Now there is a call to make that information about their donations secret.

We have secret balloting for obvious reasons. Politics frequently generates hot tempers. People can put up yard signs or wear political buttons if they want. But not everyone feels comfortable making his or her positions public — many worry that their choice might offend or anger someone else. They fear losing their jobs or facing boycotts of their businesses.

And yet the mandatory public disclosure of financial donations to political campaigns in almost every state and at the federal level renders people’s fears and vulnerability all too real. Proposition 8 — California’s recently passed constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage by ensuring that marriage in that state remains between a man and a woman — is a dramatic case in point. Its passage has generated retaliation against those who supported it, once their financial support was made public and put online.

This isn’t about killing free speech, mind you; it’s a matter of owning your political positions — you’re free to support whatever you wish — it’s just that no one has to approve of them or sit back and expect a cookie for working to revoke a civil right. Three examples are cited as on the receiving end of the backlash:

* Scott Eckern, director of the nonprofit California Musical Theater in Sacramento, had given $1,000 to Yes on 8, the theater was deluged with criticism from prominent artists. Mr. Eckern was forced to resign.

* Richard Raddon, the director of the L.A. Film Festival, donated $1,500 to Yes on 8. A threatened boycott and picketing of the next festival forced him to resign.

* Alan Stock, the chief executive of the Cinemark theater chain, gave $9,999. Cinemark is facing a boycott.

* A Palo Alto dentist lost patients as a result of his $1,000 donation.

* Marjorie Christoffersen, restaurant manager of El Coyote in L.A. gave a $100 personal donation, resigned after the news broke about her donation.

Besides, the pressure tactics were used by pro-Prop 8 forces as well:

At least one businessman who donated to “No on 8,” Jim Abbott of Abbott & Associates, a real estate firm in San Diego, received a letter from the Prop. 8 Executive Committee threatening to publish his company’s name if he didn’t also donate to the “Yes on 8″ campaign.

More below the fold. What is the motive for this call to revisit the disclosure laws? Try this on:

In each case, the law required disclosure of these individuals’ financial support for Prop. 8. Supposedly, the reason for requiring disclosure of campaign contributions is to allow voters to police politicians who might otherwise become beholden to financiers by letting voters know “who is behind the message.” But in a referendum vote such as Prop. 8, there are no office holders to be beholden to big donors.

…There is another problem with publicizing donations in political elections: It tends to entrench powerful politicians whom donors fear alienating. If business executives give money to a committee chairman’s opponent, they often fear retribution.

Other threats are more personal. For example, in 2004 Gigi Brienza contributed $500 to the John Edwards presidential campaign. An extremist animal rights group used that information to list Ms. Brienza’s home address (and similarly, that of dozens of co-workers) on a Web site, under the ominous heading, “Now you know where to find them.” Her “offense,” also revealed from the campaign finance records, was that she worked for a pharmaceutical company that tested its products on animals.

What say you, Blenders? The caveat here is that the op-ed is by John Lott, who isa senior research scientist at the University of Maryland, is the author of “Freedomnomics” (Regnery, 2007). Regnery is a right wing publishing house. Robert Cruickshank over at Calitics (and Public Policy Director of the Courage Campaign) discusses the motivations for this as well as the potential impact as there is a movement to roll back Prop 8 by ballot initiative in 2012.

This column could only be written in light of persistent media efforts to paint Yes on 8 donors as victims. By erasing the true victims – 18,000 same sex couples and the innumerable other couples who wished to follow them to full equality – folks like Steve Lopez have constructed a situation where the far right can use those supposed victims as a battering ram against campaign finance disclosure rules they’ve long opposed.

…This is not just a wingnut attempt to protect their wealthy allies. It’s an effort to lay the groundwork to undermine California’s disclosure laws in the event we return to the ballot to repeal Prop 8 in the near future. Without disclosure rules, it is highly likely that we will see much larger sums of money donated to the anti-gay cause.

Even before the post-election backlash unfolded, many wealthy donors and companies refrained from donating to the Yes on 8 campaign for fear of alienating customers and Californians. If these rules are relaxed then companies that rely on same sex marriage supporters for their profits could take that money, give it to the haters, without the public knowing or being able to take their business elsewhere. It could provide their side with a significant financial advantage over ours in a future ballot campaign.

 
 
 
 
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