Been there, disclosed that

A former member of Congress, who helms a campaign reform organization, boldly declared that “[i]t is now an accepted opinion that a contributor to a political committee has no right to secrecy.”  

The reform lobby is backed by the leader of the country’s most prominent labor union, the presidents of the country’s elite universities, former U.S. presidents and major party nominees, state governors, and one of the country’s most brilliant industrialists.  

The incumbent President of the United States weighed in as well, using his annual State of the Union message to urge the disclosure of campaign contributions by political committees, bluntly stating that with “the full and verified publication in detail of all the sums contributed to and expended by the candidates or committees of any political parties, the result cannot but be wholesome.”

After all, as The New York Times reported, a former Democratic nominee for the White House said it is “the corporations…who induc[e] public servants to betray their constituents.”  

As for more direct forms of campaign regulation, one incumbent senator remarked that “[c]orrupt practices acts have been largely unavailing and seemingly incapable of being enforced… [and disclosure] will be more efficient… and work automatically.”  

The aftermath of Citizens United and the modern push for aggressive disclosure by the Brennan Center and its allies? Not quite. All of the above occurred in the first decade of the 20th Century.  

Then, the disclosure lobby was the National Publicity Bill Organization, backed by Samuel Gompers, Andrew Carnegie, Grover Cleveland, Alton P. Parker, William Jennings Bryan, and Charles Evans Hughes. The President was Theodore Roosevelt, who pushed for disclosure laws in several of his State of the Union messages to Congress.  

The disclosure law was passed in 1910, but reformers soon decided that the real problem was the lack of a regulatory agency to enforce the law. And so the cycle began again.

Perhaps a different lesson ought to be learned: that excessive disclosure and excessive regulation are not as effective as “reformers” claim.  

P.S.: There is, however, one measure of the 1910 law that ought to be considered. Campaigns did not have to disclose contributions unless they were more than $100; about $2,300 in today’s money. That way, a $201 donation by a single mother to an unpopular candidate or campaign would not end up all over the Internet, complete with her home address and type of employment.

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