There is a new liberal pejorative for describing what is an essential aspect of our political system: anonymity in political speech. Some candidates for City Council are complaining that they don’t know who are funding political campaigns so they are trying to impugn the messages by using the sinister-sounding “dark money” as a descriptor for anonymous donations that fund political speech.
“People deserve to know who’s spending money to influence their vote,” said Colorado Ethics Watch executive director Luis Toro in the March 26 Gazette. “It helps them understand who benefits from possible policies. And it also helps identify possible conflicts of interest with legislators and City Council members and the industries that are supporting them.”
Colorado College political science professor emeritus Bob Loevy is quoted in the same article saying “The real mystery is who are the nameless, faceless persons or person who are behind the attempt to take over City Council. The voters have no way of telling what’s really going on.”
What’s going on is anonymous political free speech, which has a long and honorable tradition extending clear back to Publius and the authors of the Federalist and anti-Federalist papers. In their day, political speech could get you hung by the British for sedition. Today it can get you attacked by masked thugs or destroy your business.
People do not deserve to know who is trying to influence their vote. The whole purpose of campaigning is to influence people’s votes and it is the argument that is important, not the author. Wrote the Supreme Court, “Far from enhancing the reader’s evaluation of a message, identifying the publisher can interfere with that evaluation by requiring the introduction of potentially extraneous information at the very time the reader encounters the substance of the message.The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
“Don’t underestimate the common man,” the Court goes on to say, “People are intelligent enough to evaluate the source of an anonymous writing. They can see it is anonymous. They know it is anonymous. They can evaluate its anonymity along with its message, as long as they are permitted, as they must be, to read that message. And then, once they have done so, it is for them to decide what is ‘responsible,’ what is valuable, and what is truth.”
In overturning an Ohio law that required name disclosure the Supreme Court said “Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.” The court went on to say, “It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation – and their ideas from suppression – at the hand of an intolerant society.”
And that is why people form and contribute to nonprofits to act as political speech surrogates. Such organizations provide a shield against an intolerant and increasingly violent leftist/liberal cadre of cowardly masked thugs who are willing to commit assault, arson, criminal mischief, riot and general disorder to suppress the speech of their political opponents. The gravity of the violence of these thugs was seen in Washington D.C. at President Trump’s inauguration and again at a speech by Milo Yianopolous at UC Berkeley and many other places since.
The fear of persecution and violence is today, as it was in the past, a genuine physical threat that makes anonymity critical to protecting freedom of speech. That a group must by Colorado law register and be identified to band together and contribute financially to speak politically puts them at personal risk. Anonymity is all that protects those who want to engage in free speech and expression without fear of retribution and violence.
Nobody required Publius to register as a 401(c)3 nonprofit corporation and list the names of contributors before James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay were allowed to publish the Federalist Papers. We are entitled to the same protection of anonymity our forefathers enjoyed under the First Amendment.
Originally published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, April 6, 2017