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Monday, April 02, 2007 


I missed the birthday of the atrocious McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms during my hiatus. Thankfully, other critics marked the occasion with some commentary. John Samples over at Cato's blog had a few things to say about the topic of disclosure...
Policymaking in First Amendment area begins with a presumption of liberty. That is, strong reasons must be given to restrict basic liberties.

Mandatory disclosure of campaign finance activity requires such strong reasons. The U.S. Supreme Court has given three reasons for mandated disclosure: to deter corruption, to inform citizens so they can predict what a candidate might do in office, and to help enforce contribution limits.

Not much is known about how the policy of mandated disclosure actually relates to these "state interests." No one has been much interested in examining their effects because no one much objected. Mandatory disclosure was thought of as the least intrusive means to regulate campaign finance and political activity. Hence, even people inclined to criticize campaign finance regulation were heard saying, "it's only disclosure."
Campaign contribution disclosures do seem to get an easier pass than most other forms of regulation in this area. Samples then points us to a study from Dick Carpenter and the Institute for Justice discussing the effects of disclosure. It's only disclosure, right? Where's the harm? Well...
Indeed, both proponents and opponents of increased campaign regulations often simply assume that mandatory disclosure is a benign regulation that shines light on valuable information without any real costs. But, as we find, there are consequences, and they may in fact be quite costly to privacy and First Amendment rights while yielding little, if any, benefit in return.
Bob Bauer also took a look at the study, and summed up the most interesting aspect...
It discovered that disclosure is attractive in principle—unless it threatens to affect the individual engaged in the evaluation. Some 80% of the more than 2,000 citizens sampled concur that government should compel disclosure of donor information, but more than half object to the publication of their own name and personal information—and an even larger majority oppose employer identification as part of any disclosure requirement.
Here's more on the "chilling effect," straight from the study...
This opposition translates into a lower
likelihood of becoming involved in political activity
through donations, meaning that mandatory
disclosure "chills" citizens' speech and association:
• A majority of respondents would think twice
before donating to a ballot issue campaign if
their name, address and contribution amount
were disclosed.
• An overwhelming plurality would think twice
before donating to a ballot issue campaign if
their employer’s name were revealed.
When asked why they would think twice,
respondents cited, among other things, privacy
and safety concerns, fear of retribution, and the
revelation of their secret vote.
But these costs are outweighed by the benefits the public receives from the disclosures, right? Not really...
Not only are there serious costs associated
with disclosure, it's a regulation devoid of the
benefits typically touted by proponents, namely
"better," more informed voters:
• A little more than a third of respondents
knew where to access lists of campaign
contributors or took the time to read such
information before voting. Therefore, citizens
appear to know nothing about a law they
strongly support and appear uninterested in
accessing the information it produces.
Pop quiz. Where do you find the campaign contributor lists? No clue?

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