You can learn a lot reading this week’s Arkansas Times: I learned that state Rep. Jana Della Rosa believes that “free speech doesn’t mean anonymous free speech.”
From the Arkansas Times:
Della Rosa also supported the other major campaign finance reform bill of the last session, authored by Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock), which targeted so-called “electioneering” advertising. Wealthy individuals can spend unlimited amounts of money on radio or TV ads to support or attack a candidate, as long as the spending is nominally independent of the candidate’s campaign — and what’s worse, under current Arkansas law, such spending goes entirely unreported. Tucker’s HB 1425 would have required reporting of electioneering ads, which have expanded in Arkansas in recent cycles.
“Free speech doesn’t mean anonymous free speech, and that’s what’s happening now,” Della Rosa said. “If you’re going to put that much money into politics, the public has a right to know. … There are people who are buying legislators, either directly or indirectly. I don’t want to imply legislators are selling out, but you feel a certain obligation if someone has put that [money] much into it.”
Actually, free speech does mean anonymous free speech: it is fair to say that the American Revolution depended on it. For instance, The Federalist Papers were written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison — anonymously. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that free speech includes anonymous free speech.
From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A frequently cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:
Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.
The tradition of anonymous speech is older than the United States. Founders Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym “Publius ” and “the Federal Farmer” spoke up in rebuttal. The US Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized rights to speak anonymously derived from the First Amendment.
Burdensome campaign finance laws on private citizens may sound nice to people like Rep. Della Rosa — who apparently finds mysterious our nation’s constitutional tradition of not having to coordinate citizen participation in the political process with the government. In fact, requiring disclosure of private actions and choices would affect people besides those she calls “puppet masters.”
A good example of such unintended consequences can be seen in the case of Brendan Eich, a former Mozilla CEO, who was fired for the crime of donating $1,000 to a ballot measure against gay marriage. Requiring transparency in how tax dollars are spent is worthwhile, but requiring transparency for the private actions and choices of private citizens participating in the political process is counterproductive and dangerous.
Della Rosa also explained to the Arkansas Times that “what is completely hidden is the donors.” Her bill last session to require electronic filing of campaign contribution reports (House Bill 1233) was provocative; whether it is good public policy to create new filing burdens on political candidates in order to make disclosure reports computer-readable is something of a close question. However, it’s a massive stretch to say that donors in Arkansas are “completely hidden.” If any reader of this article wants to kill some time, they can have a look for themselves. Searching the Secretary of State’s website for campaign contributions isn’t as easy as it could be — but anyone with an Internet connection and a little time can find what they’re looking for.
The Times labeled Della Rosa a “visionary.” They’re more right than they know: one definition of a visionary is someone who has trances in which things are seen in the supernatural world that don’t exist in ours. I tried calling Rep. Della Rosa for this story to get some additional comments (I really wondered who she thinks are the “puppet masters” who are exercising “undue influence” over her colleagues, and why she hasn’t reported this scandal to the appropriate authorities), but she never got back to me. I guess she wasn’t feeling transparent today.