Using disclosure to punish political opposition in San Francisco

CCP is occasionally asked and often criticized regarding our position on disclosure of contributions in the political world. As we’ve made clear in the past, there may be some benefit to the disclosure of contributions made directly to political candidates and parties, as well as those made to entities that themselves contribute directly to candidates and parties.

As for disclosure in other areas, we generally regard the benefits as minimal and the costs as high. This morning I stumbled across a news story a few months old that demonstrate exactly why we’re not fans of disclosure outside of the candidate-related realm. From the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle, circa July 19 of this year:

Labor play: San Francisco labor leaders are asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to put the squeeze on the main backer of a measure headed for the city’s November ballot that would change the public worker pension system.

The target: British-born billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz. He and his wife, Harriet Heyman, have contributed $245,000 to help qualify the initiative being put forth by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

The reason: The measure would require all city and county employees to contribute 9 percent of their pay toward their pensions. Right now, only about half contribute. Adachi’s measure would also double workers’ cost for family medical coverage.

The labor play: a forthcoming resolution asking Pelosi to oppose any federal funding to companies owned by Moritz’s venture capital firm, Sequoia Capital. Labor leaders estimate that Sequoia-backed businesses have received no less than $250 million in federal contracts, mostly through the Energy Department.

Whether Pelosi plays ball remains to be seen. But whatever the outcome, it certainly sets the tone for the hardball game to follow.

Hardball indeed. There’s no indication of whether Speaker Pelosi complied with the effort to blackball from government contracts a private citizen and his business for the crime of contributing to a cause opposed by local labor leaders.* But can anyone doubt that there are politicians who think as Bay Area labor leaders apparently do, that disclosure of political contributions makes the development of an enemies all the easier, and that it is appropriate for the government to punish private citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights by contributing to a cause objectionable to those in power or who have friends in powerful positions?

A question worth considering, especially as Senator Max Baucus is apparently now trying to get the IRS to look into conservative nonprofits and their funders.


*In the course of looking for further information on this issue, I wound up perusing several blogs and local media outlets in the San Francisco area. For anyone else wishing to do so, I really, really do not recommend doing this from your work computer, or where small children, large children, children in between small and large, or flightless waterfowl might be able to see the screen. Wow. Just… Wow.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.