Is it OK to intimidate and harass people for their political beliefs? At least two sitcom stars seem to think so.
In late August, a report from the Hollywood Reporter indicated that President Trump was planning to appear at a Beverly Hills fundraiser during the week of the Emmy Awards in mid-September. For “Will & Grace” stars Eric McCormack and Debra Messing, this seemed like a golden opportunity to find out who Tinseltown’s “deplorables” truly are — and both actors took to Twitter to say so.
McCormack called on the Hollywood Reporter to “kindly report on everyone attending this event, so the rest of us can be clear about who we don’t wanna work with.” Soon after, his co-star Messing also asked the outlet to print a list of the event’s attendees, because “[t]he public has a right to know.”
McCormack and Messing may think they’re just making an innocent appeal to transparency — after all, what are these Trump backers trying to hide? But in reality, their tweets are a reminder that donor information, though it is in many circumstances a matter of public record, can be used as a weapon to damage people’s lives and livelihoods.
Our country’s campaign finance laws require the disclosure of the personal information of anyone who donates more than $200 to a presidential campaign. Thanks to public databases, that information is easily findable and easily searchable.
That’s how U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro was able to create the list of 44 San Antonians who gave the maximum to Trump’s reelection campaign in this election cycle and tweet it out to his followers last month. Providing that information via a tweet made it easier for Trump opponents to target these donors — indeed, several of them were harassed in the days following the tweet.
But wreaking havoc on the way someone earns their living is also a valid and real concern. McCormack’s tweet made it perfectly clear: He wants the list of Trump fundraiser attendees to be made public so “we” can make it clear who “we” don’t want to work with. In other words, having that list in hand would make it easier to know who shouldn’t be hired for a film or a television show. That’s blacklisting — plain and simple. As with Castro’s tweet, the request to make that information public is designed to intimidate the president’s supporters in Beverly Hills — while also serving as a warning to his backers and potential backers elsewhere.
McCormack and Messing are both successful actors, but apparently, they either forgot all about the Red Scare and the Hollywood blacklist of the mid-20th century, or they don’t think that outing people for their beliefs is a problem if Trump supporters are the ones affected. Since the infamous tweets, there has indeed been a backlash — even among more liberal members of the Hollywood community.
“Your idea of who you don’t want to work with is your personal business,” Whoopi Goldberg — no fan of the president’s — said on “The View.” “Do not encourage people to print out lists because the next list that comes out, your name will be on and then people will be coming after you.”
Others in Hollywood have publicly come out against this blacklisting attempt, including Kirstie Alley, who tweeted this week that refusing to work with Republicans was akin to refusing to work with gay people.
While much donor information is publicly accessible, social media has made it easier than ever to weaponize that information, exposing those who choose to donate to a campaign to possible harassment. Just like Castro’s tweet, McCormack and Messing’s requests to share the list of Trump supporters in Beverly Hills aren’t meant to inform: They’re meant to scare people away from participating in the political process. And no one — from the average American to a Hollywood star — should have to worry about whether or not they’ll find work again, simply because they choose to give money to a political candidate.
Matt Miller is a senior attorney at the nonprofit Goldwater Institute. He is currently litigating two donor privacy cases, in New Mexico and Colorado, and he is the author of a Goldwater Institute report on the landmark donor privacy case NAACP v. Alabama. Jennifer Tiedemann is deputy director of communications at the Goldwater Institute.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.