Campaign Donor Addresses?
March 26, 2010 10:38 PM   Subscribe

Why aren't campaign contribution addresses kept private (or at least semi-private)?

I understand the need to track donations to prevent campaign contribution fraud, however it occurred to me today that there's really nothing stopping right-wing/left-wing wing-nuts from using freely available campaign donation addresses to track down and intimidate donors to the opposing party's candidates.

In countries where democracy is fragile and people are often killed for voting, I don't see this sort of transparency being a worthwhile thing to do. In the U.S., however, with this week's stories of threats and violence against politicians, is it a good idea to continue making donor's address information public without at least requiring someone to provide identification to access this information?
posted by thorny to Law & Government (13 answers total)
Politics rots faster than most things in the dark. Public information helps all of us be informed, skeptical citizens—it's necessary for a functioning democracy.

And folks who'd give up freedom for security deserve neither.
posted by klangklangston at 10:52 PM on March 26, 2010

Why should they be? Transparency is good. Millions of people donate to candidates. This is normal life, not secret secret stuff. If you don't want to be found out don't do anything public, like file a marriage, get a speeding ticket, be born, vote, and about a million other things. Anything really. Public record is public record.
posted by sanka at 10:55 PM on March 26, 2010

I understand public record is public record -- but many things on the public record are not nearly as easy to access as campaign contribution information. If you try to get any sort of vital record, you are likely to have to print/mail or even hand deliver a request to get the information. Public court records are another thing. In many places you can't just go to a web page and access court records without jumping through hoops or often paying for it. (Many places DO have easy access to this information, but some of these places are even reconsidering it - Wisconsin for example.)

I'm not against keeping the donations public. My point is that political views seem (at least recently) to be much more inflammatory than say marriage license information or a speeding ticket. If you were a VERY disgruntled wing-nut you could take it out on your nearest neighbor that held an opposing political view with a few clicks on a computer. Why not protect this sort of data AT LEAST to the extent that vital records are protected?
posted by thorny at 11:09 PM on March 26, 2010

Corruption is what some might call A Big Deal. Making campaign contributions as transparent as possible helps to stave it off.

In theory, anyway.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:14 PM on March 26, 2010

posted by iamabot at 11:15 PM on March 26, 2010

There's a lawsuit about that very issue in the federal courts now in California regarding the Prop 8 donors.

Aspects of it have already been up to the Ninth Circuit a couple of times. It's being tried before Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, but his handling of the case has been highly questionable and it's a foregone conclusion that his decision will get appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and likely also to the Supreme Court.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:42 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

It goes both ways, really. In theory, a random neighbor might see a donation I've made and decide to give me a hard time, but it hasn't happened yet. Meanwhile, I now know the overpriced gas station/garage on the corner is owned by a guy who donated heavily to get prop 8 passed, and so I have two reasons not to go there any more.

We live and die by the important decisions we make, and voting is (and should be) important. Yes, it might expose a person to risk, but it also might expose corruption, and someone whose ethical stance isn't defensible might not be willing to put their name and address out there supporting that stance. The only thing I know for sure is that it's a lot more likely that sketchy behavior will be hidden by lack of transparency than it is a random crazy will come to my house because they didn't like where I spent my $500.
posted by davejay at 12:38 AM on March 27, 2010

In the U.S., however, with this week's stories of threats and violence against politicians, is it a good idea to continue making donor's address information public without at least requiring someone to provide identification to access this information?

The solution to dealing with bullies is not to hide from them, it's to stand up to them. If we start hiding information about political donations because of threats from assholes, then the assholes have won. I'm proud of the donations that I've made and have no interest in hiding them from anyone.
posted by octothorpe at 6:02 AM on March 27, 2010

Transparency is one of the things that prevents Exxon Mobil, Walmart, General Electric [& etc.] from simply installing our presidents.
posted by applemeat at 6:32 AM on March 27, 2010

In theory, a random neighbor might see a donation ...

Or a random, important corporate client...
posted by applemeat at 6:35 AM on March 27, 2010

With the Prop 8 furor, all the people who donated and then complained that their neighbors were shunning them for being anti-gay bigots, made me actually think the transparency was a good thing, because if the only way you can publicly espouse your beliefs without feeling shame is by wearing a sheet, that may be a sign it's time to re-examine your beliefs.

In this world, people sometimes get intimidated or even threatened for holding or acting upon particular beliefs. If you want US examples, you need only look at the Revolution, the Civil War, the Civil Rights struggle, the anti-Vietnam protests ... the list goes on and on. Just about every religion and moral system in the world teaches you that sometimes doing the right thing makes you unpopular. You suck it up and do it anyway.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:08 AM on March 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Donations to political parties are allowed to be kept secret here in Northern Ireland, the only jurisdiction under UK law where that is the case.

This is a legacy of the conflict here, fears of paramilitary or even state retribution were fairly justified, but there are currently debates under way as to whether the time is right to change the law and make it compulsory to release information on donors.
posted by knapah at 10:00 AM on March 27, 2010

I don't think we should make decisions that would affect the long-term prospects of transparency over a hopefully short-term prospect of violence – I use "long-term" and "short-term" measured on the life of the country, not a human lifespan.
posted by WCityMike at 11:04 AM on March 27, 2010

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