In the News: More Soft Money Hard Law: A Few Words on “Hypocrites” and “Zealots”

By Bob Bauer
A lot of the yelling and screaming heard about McCutcheon has recently migrated into the debate about disclosure. Charles Krauthammer has complained that the zealots have ruined disclosure as a policy option by misusing donor information to launch attacks on them. And Brad Smith took to the webpages of the Center for Competitive Politics to refute the charge that on the question of mandatory disclosure, conservatives once open to transparency had reversed course, supposedly shifting with the winds now blowing against campaign finance regulation overall.
At least on this question of “hypocrisy,” commentators like Smith have the better part of the argument. It is not hypocritical for skeptics about reform to insist that disclosure policy has its complexities and might not be embraced wholesale. Yes, there was once a time when, in the face of a robust regulatory regime, offers were seemingly made to trade disclosure as a positive good for a liberalization of a complex system of funding limits and prohibitions. But there has always been a line of argument that we need to take disclosure seriously and not as a measure of minimal consequence: that there is no such thing as regulation without bite, even disclosure regulation. It does matter that individuals’ political preferences, expressed in the donations they make, are forced into the public view.

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