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Josten Defends Chamber’s Refusal to Disclose Donors

After some initial reluctance, U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president for government affairs Bruce Josten agreed to sit down with ABC’s Jake Tapper yesterday and talk about the accusations that Democrats have leveled against the group regarding its receipt of foreign funds and its unwillingness to disclose its donors for the $75 million it plans to spend during the current midterm elections. Tapper published the whole conversation with Josten, including this response that hints at the Chamber’s rationale for not simply disclosing its donors and clearing the air of any charges:

What this administration wants is a list of who the companies are who are contributors, and we saw last year, Jake, why, when we very publicly ran ads against the Patients Protections and Affordable Care Act, quoting the CBO, quoting the head of CMS, the Centers for Medicare Services, that it would not in fact bend the cost curve down, that it would bend the cost curve up as they testified before the senate finance committee, there was an attempt to try and find out who were the corporations that were contributing to that effort.

When some of those corporate names were divulged, not by us, by others, what did they receive? They received protests, they received threats, they were intimidated, they were harassed, they had to hire additional security, they were recipients of a host of proxies leveled at those companies that had nothing to do with the purpose of those companies. So we know what the purpose here is. It’s to harass and intimidate.

Much like we’ve seen in California with ballot initiatives — when the proponents of ballot initiatives’ names have been divulged to the public — those people were harassed, they were threatened with violence and they were intimidated.

Josten’s response is interesting for how closely it resembles the arguments being made by social issues groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which advocated successfully against same-sex marriage in a number of states, including Maine and California, and is now fighting in the courts to keep the names of the donors to its campaign a secret. NOM — and the group’s Mormon and Catholic Church backers — aren’t exactly enjoying a lot of goodwill from a sizable portion of the electorate for swooping into state races and advocating against gay and lesbian rights, but this is part of the group’s argument. It claims that when donors to Proposition 8 were revealed in California, they faced intense harassment and boycotts by gay rights groups.

The Supreme Court, however, hasn’t been too sympathetic to this line of argument. It’s already ruled in a previous case involving a petition in Washington State that there are laws against intimidation and harassment already on the books, and that participating in the political process requires a degree of thick skin for dealing with those forms of political pushback that don’t cross any legal lines.

When it comes to the Chamber — an association of companies and not people — it’s even harder to imagine the specter of harassment evoking a great deal of sympathy from the average American. What kind of “harassment” should a multinational corporation be shielded from that a citizen who chooses to speak at a public forum should not? Josten himself conjures up a popular Supreme Court case to illuminate the threat of harassment that the Chamber might endure — the NAACP vs. the State of Alabama — but, again, it seems doubtful to me that this kind of analogy won’t throw the ridiculousness of the claim into sharp relief:

But the good government groups know as well as I do, because there’s been studies done on it, with respect to disclosure, that forcing people to comply with disclosure rules in order to exercise their First Amendment, ultimately results in people remaining silent or uninvolved with little or no benefit to the public because it squelches speech.

The seminal Supreme Court case, I would remind your listeners, was NAACP vs. the state of Alabama, in 1953 I believe, when certain people wanted to know who the white Americans that were promoting integration in this country over segregation and out those people to harass them. The Supreme Court decided then. Hell no was the answer.

Those supporting integration in the early 1950s South, however, were facing more than the prospect of a nasty email or the boycott of their hotel chain, however. They were all too often the subject of violent intimidation campaigns, and the suggestion that the Chamber’s corporate donors would face the same treatment seems to undercut, rather than strengthen, the sympathy that Josten is trying to evoke.

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