It is important for the people to be able to witness what their representatives in government do in their names so they can keep a tight rein on their rights and their tax dollars.
But that does not equate to a right to pry into the beliefs and advocacies of private citizens wishing to exercise their free speech rights anonymously.
To misinterpret, misquote and take entirely out of context the words of the Founders to support this prying by force of law is despicable.
On Monday, Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse took to the floor of the Senate to push what he called the DISCLOSE Act 2.0, a slightly watered down version of the failed Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act. He said:
“Madam president in 1822 the Founding Father James Madison wrote: ’A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.’ A vote for DISCLOSE is a vote to arm the people with the power that knowledge gives, to arm them with the popular information about elections — information necessary to prevent this great popular government of ours from becoming a special interest farce, information necessary to protect this democracy from the tragedy, as John McCain predicted, of scandal that will result. Give the American people the information they need to be their own governors. Vote for DISCLOSE.”
You can see the video here.
But Whitehouse left out was the first sentence of Madison’s letter to W.T. Barry:
“The liberal appropriations made by the Legislature of Kentucky for a general system of Education cannot be too much applauded.”
The man who was one of the three who wrote the Federalist Papers anonymously was talking about education, not the unbounded right of the people to know precisely who is backing which candidate or issue by spending how much money.
I don’t recall Madison having any qualms about the anonymous works of Thomas Paine or John Locke or Montesquieu either.
In fact it could be argued that Madison embodied the concept of privacy when he was finally persuaded to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution and he rewrote George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights. The First Amendment bars Congress from abridging “free speech” or interfering with private religious beliefs, while the Fourth promises the right of people to be secure in their homes and their papers. And the Ninth talks of “other rights retained by the people” — among those, many scholars argue, is privacy.
But Nevada’s senior Sen. Harry Reid still pushes the bill, saying, “The DISCLOSE Act would require political organizations of all stripes — liberal and conservative alike — to disclose donations in excess of $10,000 if they will be used for campaign purposes. Safeguarding fair and transparent elections used to be an area where Democrats and Republicans could find common ground.”
If you want transparent elections, do away with the Australian ballot. You don’t know what the Australian ballot is? It was not adopted in the United States until after the presidential election of 1884. It is the secret ballot. Not very transparent.
Twice this week Republicans have blocked debate on the DISCLOSE Act.
The bill is intended to overturn the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which struck much, but not all, of the McCain-Feingold campaign financing reform law.
Justice Clarence Thomas concurred in part and dissented in part in that case. His dissent was over disclosure requirements.
“Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech based on the “simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …'” Thomas wrote. “In continuing to hold otherwise, the Court misapprehends the import of ‘recent events’ that some describe ‘in which donors to certain causes were blacklisted, threatened, or otherwise targeted for retaliation.’”
Justice Thomas concluded, “I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in ‘core political speech, the “primary object of First Amendment protection.’”
Harry also tried to quote a Founder, this time Thomas Jefferson. He misquoted, “The end of democracy will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed corporations.”:
The only problem is that authoritative research says the quote is probably specious and put together 200 years later, according to Monticello.org.
But even the apparently amalgamated quote you can find all over the Internet is not about corporate speech but about the national bank and driving up debt for future generations to have to repay:
“The end of democracy and defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of the lending institutions and moneyed incorporations. The Bank of the United States is one of the most deadly hostilities existing against the principles and form of our Constitution. The system of banking is a blot [defect] left in [unsolved by, and unfortunately tolerated by] all our Constitutions [state and federal], which if not covered [eventually solved and revoked] will end in their destruction. I sincerely believe that banking institutions are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity is but swindling futurity [on the greatest possible scale].”
Harry even took the misquote out of context. I also think Harry would have a hard time sticking with that admonition, no matter who said it.
For the record, Jefferson did write in 1825 to William Branch Giles and spoke of “a vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who, having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76, now look to a single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and monied incorporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures, commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry.”
As for the DISCLOSE Act, sorry, John L., we will have to disagree on this one.