In a public debate, it is considered a wise practice to avoid assailing someone on a topic you know very little about. Evidently that is a practice without a champion at the Herald-Leader editorial desk.
The June 19 editorial demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of campaign finance law and an utter lack of familiarity with my history on this subject.
The temptation to begin by noting the irony of a corporate-owned newspaper condemning the right of corporations to participate in political speech is more than I can withstand.
I'm not sure whether it's the abrupt end to the monopoly on political speech that corporate media outlets enjoyed or the idea that another opinion is being expressed that offends them most.
In the attempt to invent inconsistency in my views on campaign finance disclosure, the editorial skillfully uncovered quotes dating back as many as 25 years.
The quotes are accurate, and I still agree with every word. The problem is that my comments from decades ago were addressing the topics of taxpayer-funded elections (which I disagreed with then and do so today), and of candidate- and party-contribution disclosure (which I thought was entirely appropriate then, just as I do today).
Those are completely separate topics from today's left-wing effort to harass contributors to social welfare groups supporting causes that President Barack Obama disagrees with.
My motive for speaking out against clear intimidation tactics, according to the Herald-Leader, is to shield super PACs from disclosure rules. That would be more compelling if super PACs weren't currently required to disclose their donors.
By law, all super PAC contributors are disclosed, but supporters of Gov. Mitt Romney have the added benefit of appearing on Obama's Web site as, "Donors who benefit from betting against America."
Now you see what I am getting at.
A more accurate characterization of my position is that no American should face harassment by government simply because that government doesn't agree with the causes he or she supports. And arguing against the government forcing a group to disclose its members is hardly without precedent.
In the 1958 case NAACP vs. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled that forced disclosure of the NAACP's member lists by the state of Alabama violated the Constitution, as it would discourage people from freely associating with a cause or group.
I have spent nearly my entire career defending the First Amendment from Democrat and Republican attempts to undermine it. And I have yet to encounter a serious attempt to limit our freedom of speech that doesn't sound good at first blush. And that's what is happening with "disclosure."
What sounds like "good government" reform is an attempt to identify and punish political enemies, or at very least, intimidate others from participating in the process. This is not a conspiracy theory — we know it because it is currently happening.
The Obama administration has attempted to single out its critics through federal agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, and even through a proposed executive order aimed at denying critics government contracts.
The president has used selective disclosure not as a tool of good government but as a political weapon. Kentucky Tea Parties that have dealt with the IRS lately can testify firsthand. The leader of one Tea Party group in Kentucky has said that organizations like it "either drown ... in unnecessary paperwork ... or you survive and give them everything they want, only to be hung."
The Herald-Leader would have you think that those who raise these serious concerns are more interested in winning the next election than defending the First Amendment.
I don't remember hearing that criticism when I was defending the right of my self-funding opponent to spend his millions against me. Nor do I recall being accused of playing politics when I cast the deciding vote against a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning — not a popular stance, I assure you.
Regardless of politics, I knew those efforts would substantially weaken the protections under the First Amendment. The irony of calling out a president for attempting to silence his critics is that his supporters immediately try to silence you. Well, I won't be silenced by inaccurate attempts to discredit me.
This is a battle I've been fighting long before the Obama administration, and it's a battle I'll be fighting long after its gone.