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Lautenberg: Boycott My Constituents!

On the floor of the Senate yesterday, Frank Lautenberg did something that to our knowledge is unprecedented: he called publicly for a boycott of his own constituents. The context was the “DISCLOSE Act,” which would require 501(c)(4) entities to disclose the identities of their donors. The bill is opposed by a coalition that includes the ACLU and the NRA, and likely is unconstitutional, but the Democrats think it is good politics, so they wanted to see it voted down again yesterday. Which it was.

Frank Lautenberg, speaking on behalf to the DISCLOSE Act, carried demagoguery to new depths:

So today on the Senate floor I am going to disclose the identities of a couple of people who are among the biggest sources of secret money. I am going to disclose where their money comes from. Here on this placard we see the Koch brothers, David and Charles Koch. They are the powerhouses in this movement to take away the ability of the American people to decide how they vote and who gets into office.

What? “[A] movement to take away the ability of the American people to decide how they vote and who gets into office?” We are all used to hyperbole in political discourse, but this is insane.

It has been reported that these two brothers are putting together a secret group of donors, and they are going to put $400 million in the pot to subvert the upcoming election—$400 million. The Koch brothers and their secret group will use those millions of dollars to flood the airwaves, but when we see the ads, we will not see the names of the Koch brothers or members of their secret group of millionaires.

A question: Wealthy liberals have also contributed to organizations that do not disclose their donors and that will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on this year’s campaign. Priorities USA Action, which is dedicated to re-electing Barack Obama, is just one such Democratic organization that has a 501(c)(4) branch that does not disclose donors. Are these Democratic groups also trying to “subvert the upcoming election?” Or are they different somehow?

Next, Lautenberg did something that to my knowledge no Senator or Congressman has ever done before: he called, at least implicitly, for a boycott of an American company, simply because its owners disagree with him politically:

Where do these brothers get all this money? It is interesting. These brothers run a giant international conglomerate, one of the largest privately held companies in the world. This secretive corporation has a huge impact on our lives. Koch Industries controls oil, gas, and chemical companies that do business across the globe.

Now, while we may not notice, their products are everywhere. In fact, their products are in many American homes today. For instance, all of these everyday products are sold by Koch Industries. These Dixie cups are cups that kids drink out of, and they are sold by the Koch brothers. Paper plates that often serve birthday cakes are sold by the Koch brothers. Brawny paper towels that we use to clean the floor when our kids spill things are also sold by the Koch brothers.

You probably haven’t heard of INVISTA—it is another company owned by the Koch brothers’ global conglomerate—but they do make things you have heard of, such as STAINMASTER carpet and LYCRA fabric for clothes. We think these goods come in handy, we all buy them, but they are also a source of revenue for the Koch brothers, who fund attack ads that pollute our airwaves.

What point can this recitation of Koch’s products–products which “pollute our airwaves”–have, other than to encourage listeners not to buy them? Which prompts several thoughts:

First, “disclosure” almost always sounds like a good thing. But Lautenberg’s call for a boycott reminds us why some businessmen do not want their 501(c)(4) contributions made public. Liberals frequently are vicious. Lautenberg isn’t the first Democrat (although I believe he is the first Senator or Congressman) to advocate a boycott of products produced by companies that are owned or managed by individuals who contribute to Republican candidates. And a boycott is hardly the worst-case scenario: conservatives have been been victims of “SWATing,” which potentially can be life-threatening, and the Koch brothers themselves frequently receive death threats from liberals. Such concerns explain why the Supreme Court has held that private organizations may have a constitutional right to keep their memberships private.

Second, Lautenberg is so carried away by hateful partisanship that he wants his own constituents to suffer economically. Koch Industries has operations in New Jersey, which Lautenberg represents. In fact, six different subsidiaries of Georgia Pacific, whose products Lautenberg attacked by name, have employees in New Jersey. Even though his home state is hurting economically, Lautenberg doesn’t care. He is such a bitter partisan that he is willing to betray his own constituents.

Lautenberg’s attack was so outside the boundaries of traditional American politics that I asked Mark Holden, Koch Industries’ General Counsel, whether he wanted to comment. This is his response:

So Senator Lautenberg is in favor of protecting the First Amendment rights of US flag defilers and providing habeas corpus rights for suspected foreign terrorists but attacks a US company, urges a boycott of its products, and is trying to drive it and its US employees out of business because he disagrees with the company owners’ exercise of their First Amendment rights to express their public policy views? The Senator’s blatant hypocrisy and outright hostility towards a longstanding US manufacturer and its 50,000 US employees are deeply troubling.

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