When You Have to Dine and Dash

When was the last time you had to abruptly leave a restaurant? Whatever the reason, chances are it wasn’t because protestors arrived unannounced and interrupted your meal.

Yet, this seems to be a growing occurrence for many elected officials, as the number of incidents of their everyday activities being interrupted has spiked. Senator Ted Cruz was the latest victim of this trend when he and his wife were forced to leave a D.C. restaurant after protesters showed up and chanted their opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the couple.

“It’s crazy times,” said Maria Trabocchi, the restaurant’s co-owner.

Harassment of senators on the Judiciary Committee hasn’t stopped at rowdy restaurant patrons either. During last Thursday’s hearing with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, three members of the Committee had their home address and phone numbers posted to their Wikipedia pages.

Even more disturbing, this information was posted to Wikipedia by someone in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Many were quick to condemn these attempts to harass and intimidate senators in public and at their homes. Yet, everyday citizens who lack the protections that come with being a U.S. Senator routinely lose their privacy for their own political beliefs and associations, and rarely receive the same sympathy.

Under current federal law, any American who gives anything more than just $200 to a candidate, political party, or political committee must have their name, home address, employer, and occupation published in a government database hosted by the Federal Election Commission. Americans who help fund ads that name candidates in the course of discussing issues – such as Kavanaugh’s confirmation – during specific time periods must also be publicly disclosed. And every day, politicians and activist groups are working to radically expand these laws to force even more types of groups to expose the identities of their supporters. This information would then be accessible to anyone at any time, courtesy of the United States government.

If giving out the personal information of a U.S. Senator is beyond the pale, why isn’t the same standard applied to everyday Americans?

It wasn’t so long ago that a woman who gave just $100 in support of a California ballot proposition was forced to quit her job as a server after the restaurant faced intense protests over her personal contribution. Another woman who worked for an organization opposing public money being used to construct an NHL arena had a gutted rabbit left on her doorstep.

Exposing the personal information of everyday citizens and the advocacy groups they support opens these Americans up to the same type of harassment endured by those mentioned previously. At a time of intense political polarization, why would citizens want to stand up and be heard when they see the frightening results of doing so? They know the Capitol Police will not offer them the protection afforded to those in the U.S. Senate. Average Americans also lack the platform elected officials have to respond and condemn such attacks.

This current culture of fear and harassment comes with real world consequences. The problem is not simply that politicians and public figures like Ted Cruz or other senators occasionally have their dinner ruined or need to change their phone number. The problem is that everyday Americans will turn away from civic participation. A democracy only functions well when everyone feels they can safely make their voice heard without fear of harassment or intimidation.

Rules that require the publication of Americans’ home addresses and employers simply for their political and increasingly non-political associations can – and does – cause citizens to fear for their safety and avoid speaking.

After the events of last week, who can blame them?

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