Colbert Is Funny, Our Disclosure Laws Are Not

As any fellow members of the Nation are doubtless aware, the latest way for college kids to get their name on television is to donate cash to Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Super PAC.  If you do so, your name will scroll at the bottom of the screen as one of the Super PAC’s “Heroes”.  It’s a nice way for a 19-year old GW student to get a new Facebook picture, and everybody who is giving is in the on the gag.  (D.B. Cooper also apparently gave.)  All well and good.

Of course, Colbert could have done more than just scroll the names of the Super PAC’s donors.  He could have hunted the FEC database for those who gave more than $200 to candidates other than “Rick Parry” (with an A for America) and posted their names, addresses, employers and job titles on his website or scrolled the information on his show.  Not so funny anymore.

The purpose of our disclosure laws is ostensibly to prevent corruption.  Sunlight is the best disinfectant, yadda yadda yadda.  We know the drill.  But is it really preventing any corruption for the Federal government to mandate blasting to the world the name and home address of a dentist from Peoria who gave $300 to Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul, candidates who rake in millions in contributions?  

Our current disclosure regime has eroded the right to discreet association a right that the Supreme Court upheld in the seminal cases of NAACP v. Alabama and Bates v. City of Little Rock. In today’s modern world, where the Internet enables us to look at the political contributions of people with names similar to those who email us (not a joke), our disclosure laws are chilling the speech of those who simply wish to express additional support for a candidate with some extra cash.  Raising the disclosure threshold would be a “Disclose Act” actually worthy of support.

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