Bradley A. Smith holds the Josiah H. Blackmore II/Shirley M. Nault Designated Professor of Law position at Capital University Law School and Visiting Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. Chair of Law at West Virginia University College of Law. A 2010 recipient of the Bradley Prize, he is one of the nation’s leading authorities on election law and campaign finance. In 2000, he was nominated by President Clinton to fill a Republican-designated seat on the Federal Election Commission, where he served for five years, including serving as Chairman of the Commission in 2004. He is the author of Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform and, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the good guys.
Professor Smith is also the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics. (Support the Center with a contribution here.) Professor Smith has been following this series on Dick Durbin and has taken to the Center’s blog to post “Dick Durbin doesn’t understand who is serving whom.” Referring to Durbin’s campaign of intimidation against supporters of ALEC, Professor Smith writes:
Durbin’s thuggishness here – and it really is hard to think of a better word for it – hasn’t played well. But what interests us this morning is Dick’s response. Durbin is doubling down on the thuggery. He responds, “My concern is with the lack of transparency. As a public official, when I take a position, I stand up to explain and defend it. I file annual financial disclosures, campaign finance reports and have to face the scrutiny of public opinion.”
Now, here at CCP, we’ve long said that the purpose of disclosure is to allow citizens to monitor government, not to allow government to monitor citizens. We recognize that in practice this distinction can dissolve. For example, if we demand to know who gave money to a public official, in order to monitor that official, we will necessarily give the government the tools to monitor us. But as a first principle for thinking about what disclosure is proper, it is a pretty good starting point. “Because Senator Durbin wants to know” is simply not a valid reason for the government invading your privacy.
“As a public official” is the key phrase in Durbin’s response. He is a public official. We (meaning all the rest of us who are not public officials) are not. He has the power of the state; we do not. Does anyone seriously think a letter from Dick Durbin demanding to know if you financially support certain groups, and what you think of certain laws, with the openly stated intention to publicize your reponse in an official Senate hearing, is anything like receiving a similar request from, say, well, the Center for Competitive Politics?
We monitor you, Dick. You don’t monitor us. That’s why you file financial reports and campaign finance reports. You are a public servant, not a public master.
This is not Durbin’s first attempt to try to silence his political opposition. Durbin is one of the Senators who specifically urged the IRS to investigate conservative non-profit groups, leading to the current IRS scandal.
We think it is time for Dick Durbin to retake a civics class, and learn that in our system, he serves us; we don’t serve him.
(Footnote omitted.) Please go to Professor Smith’s post for the whole thing including links.