COMMENTARY: When your job is to reform our democracy by advocating citizen-driven good governance policies, you open yourself up to shots from partisan special interests. When such interests attack you personally, you can rest assured you are making good progress.
In their partisan and comically titled rant, “New Mexicans should be suspicious of Secretary of State’s anti-privacy rulemaking,” the Center for Competitive Politics and Rio Grande Foundation teamed up to attack me, a fellow conservative, for daring to support intelligent disclosure regulations. My grave sin? I crossed arbitrary partisan lines in support of commonsense rules proposed by a democratically elected Democrat Secretary of State.
I don’t mind being the target of emotional, non-factual, derision. I’ve been in liberal crosshairs since I was a conservative at the University of California, Berkeley. I’ve been targeted since, often by conservatives, who assume because I went to Berkeley that I must be a liberal-in-conservative-clothing. Such is the experience of a country-first, nonpartisan reformer.
Truthfully, I agree with the ideological missions of most conservative organizations, including the CCP and RGF. In principle, we probably align on 98 percent of the issues for which we advocate. We simply disagree on the need for transparency in the area of political spending.
I’ve met Mr. Gessing, executive director of the Rio Grande Foundation, and enjoyed discussing a range of political and policy issues with him. We disagreed on disclosure, of course, but we still had a sensible, face-to-face conversation. He had a Coke, I had a coffee. See? We forged a common bond — bridged by caffeine — and we survived the encounter.
I haven’t met Mr. Smith of the Center for Competitive Politics — a name I find ironic for an organization that opposes transparency. It reminds me of my baseball playing days competing against steroid users, when the mantra was, “if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin.’ ” I have no doubt Mr. Smith and I could also have a friendly if spirited discourse (beverage choice as yet undetermined).
We’d definitely disagree on the landmark case Buckley v. Valeo. Mr. Smith might argue that Buckley v. Valeo was great. As an advocate for the free speech of “everyday” Americans, I’d argue Buckley v. Valeo, exacerbated by the unintended consequences of Citizens United and did tremendous damage to the integrity of our elections system by flooding the market with big money, special-interest “speech” to the detriment of free speech by individual citizens.
I’m keenly focused on building bridges and actually achieving democracy-enhancing, nonpartisan reforms, but I don’t shy away from calling out emotional rhetoric and nonsensical assertions. Too often in today’s political discourse, the loudest, most extreme voices attract the most attention. Critical thinking frequently takes a backseat to the tactics of verbal, diversionary warfare.
The Smith/Gessing diatribe implies that I’m somehow carrying water for a Democrat — New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver — but that’s intellectually lazy. It’s pure sophistry, and an example of stating an opinion as though it were fact.
I personally believe, as the Supreme Court said in Citizens United, “Disclosure is the less-restrictive alternative to more comprehensive speech regulations.” As the Court stated, “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”
That’s the reason why citizens already have their names disclosed when they contribute to a candidate’s campaign — and it’s why donors who fund political spending through nonprofit groups should have their names disclosed as well.
The new SOS rules and regulations that go into effect in October are not being imposed by “bureaucratic fiat,” as Smith and Gessing dishonestly proclaim. Rather, the rules accurately reflect the will of the people. The nine out of 10 New Mexico citizens who say they want disclosure will finally have it. The 92 percent of local business owners who want disclosure will finally have it. As to the constitutionality of the rules, after the costly, frivolous legal challenge that is sure to be brought by organizations like the CCP and RGF, we’ll learn, again, that such disclosure rules and regulations are both legal and constitutional.
What still won’t be clear is why organizations like CCP and RGF are so vehemently opposed to disclosure. The Citizens United ruling suggests there is a choice to be made between disclosure and “more comprehensive” regulation. Would CCP and RGF prefer the “more comprehensive” regulation?
Ultimately, there wouldn’t be any reason to seek disclosure if certain tax exempt organizations weren’t electioneering and acting like political campaigns.
Would CCP and RGF prefer that nonprofit organizations be completely prohibited from spending money to influence elections? That would solve the donor-privacy issue. Not too long ago, the IRS was considering rules that would do just that. Should the Smith/Gessing tirade against donor disclosure — and me personally — be construed as support for those IRS rules?
More likely is that they are just trying to protect the double-standard that has existed in New Mexico: Citizens who contribute to political campaigns have their names disclosed while dark-money donors are able to funnel untraceable money into our elections and shield their electioneering activities and attempts to influence government policy.
Yes, I do respect the secretary of state and agree with her new rules. But I’m hardly stumping for her office. I advocate for similar disclosure rules and regulations across the nation, in both red and blue states, with elected officials who are both Democrat and Republican.
I believe individuals and organizations of any political ideology should stand up proudly when they contribute significant amounts of money to a candidate or campaign. Conservative icon and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated, “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously… hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.”
So to the Center for Competitive Politics and the Rio Grande Foundation, I ask, what — and why — are you trying to hide?
Doug Nickle is a University of California, Berkeley graduate and former Major League Baseball pitcher. He now works to enact democracy-restoring reforms that increase voter empowerment and participation in our political process. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.