Fear not, billionaire super PAC and 501(c)(4) funders. You may feel oppressed, you may fear the pitchforks and torches of the unwashed masses gathering at the gate of your manse, you may wake in the night in a cold sweat and bellow to your footman, "Dare I give Paul Ryan $10 million for his 2016 presidential race, lest some bearded plebian pen a vicious blog post aimed at my very heart?" If nothing else, Mitch McConnell has your back.
Today, McConnell takes to the pages of The Washington Post to defend the right of America's millionaires and billionaires to pour their funds into campaigns while remaining anonymous. Those with long memories may recall that when the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was being debated, McConnell and others said that the answer to the problem of money and politics was disclosure: Let the wealthy give as much as they want, but disclose contributions quickly, and with everything out in the open we could forestall the possibility of corruption. But with McCain-Feingold safely struck down and Citizens United inaugurating a new dawn of American liberty, disclosure is now McConnell's enemy:
These tactics are straight out of the left-wing playbook: Expose your opponents to public view, release the liberal thugs and hope the public pressure or unwanted attention scares them from supporting causes you oppose. This is what the administration has done through federal agencies such as the FCC and the FEC, and it’s what proponents of the Disclose Act plan to do with donor and member lists.
The fearsome "liberal thugs" notwithstanding, this gets to the heart of democracy's messiness. You can have a political system where everyone is unfailingly polite to each other, or you can have a system where people are free to express their views, but you can't have both. By choosing to have a democracy, we make a series of bargains. We enshrine freedom of religion, even though we know that means people who believe in idiotic faiths (i.e. those different from our own) will be able to practice them, too. We create a system of due process, even though that means guilty people, even monstrous people, will be given fair trials with at least the possibility of getting off. And we defend freedom of speech, knowing that that means we'll have to tolerate the voicing of abhorrent ideas, not to mention Two and a Half Men and the career of will.i.am.
And if our election rules will allow the Sheldon Adelsons of the world to put millions behind their favorite candidate—something which, by the way, residents of most of the world's democracies find beyond absurd—it isn't too much to ask that if you choose to use your enormous wealth to attempt to shift the outcome of elections, if nothing else the public should know who you are. That way we'll know whom our elected officials are indebted to. And yes, there is a price to pay for that participation: people might say you're wrong, or even call you a jerk. Money is speech, you say? Well freedom of speech means the right to say whatever you want, not the right to be immune from criticism. It's amazing how often conservatives can't see the difference.
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