My favorite Founding Father, James Madison, the architect of our Constitution, warned us in The Federalist No. 10 against the “mischiefs of faction,” or political turmoil wrought by “… a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common pulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Perhaps Messina assumes as given that some individuals and corporations have it out for both the rights of other individuals and the interests of the nation, and that campaign finance disclosure would somehow mitigate their effects. This view would require a Herculean defense.
Corporations provide value to two important cross-sections of the economy, making everyone better off: shareholders and consumers. By organizing labor and capital in response to price signals and consumer feedback, corporations provide both returns on investors’ risked capital, and offer goods and services to consumers at prices they’re willing to pay. But even this belies the point! Even if corporations somehow willfully oppose the rights of other people, what gives Messina and company a right to know what corporation managers’ and other wealthy persons’ electoral agendas are? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with corporations’ policy agendas? There is a vast difference in the impact on society between campaign expenditures and lobbying expenditures; the latter are far more dangerous to our rights and our aggregate well being, as the fields of game theory and public choice teach us. Just ask any leftist who shouted “HALLIBURTON!” at any point between 9/11 and January 2009.
Madison also wrote that the only two ways to deal with factions are to either destroy “the liberty which is essential to [their] existence” or to foist upon “every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.” Are Messina and the president prepared to openly commit to the former in an election year? In a way, yes: David Axelrod recently promised Obama supporters that, in a second term, the president would move to effectively repeal First Amendment rights affirmed by the Supreme Court in Citizens United. The casual, shallow use of moral language in fundraising appeals suggests the campaign is at least committed to the latter of Madison’s alternatives. But our question is still unanswered: Upon what moral principle is this ‘right to know’ predicated?
I yearn for a full-throated defense of this position, yet my liberal friends routinely fail to provide me with one.
The Framers understood quite well that a time would eventually come when the United States government would become so large it would need to encroach on individual liberty to sustain itself, bringing all the force of law and arms to bear upon its endeavors. The Founders had the whole of recorded human history (as we do, and more!) from which to deduce their conclusions. Thus, they drafted institutions with very specific, enumerated powers, and they framed those institutions in our Constitution. They designed this document to shield citizens from abuses of power that would be cloaked in moralistic language. Sadly, those in power, including Senator Incumbent Protection, have many allies in the progressive media who happily gaze into their navels, wondering why society hasn’t been able to destroy liberty more quickly to achieve desired political outcomes.
Do not expect this age-old fight to dissipate in the foreseeable future. But do please join me in calling out those who would lord judgment of our moral character over us if we do not agree with them over our right to participate in the political process without fear of intimidation or retribution from our opponents — a right justly derived from wrongs that litter human history.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that victims of Bernie Madoff’s crimes have a right to sit as jurors in his trial.