On Friday the Washington Times published an editorial addressing Dick Durbin’s campaign of intimidation against ALEC and its supporters. We have featured Durbin’s campaign in several parts of this series; it represents a shocking abuse of his office. Durbin speaks up defending his behavior in a (patently false) Chicago Tribune column that Roll Call quotes here. Yesterday we excerpted Professor Bradley Smith’s concise condemnation of Durbin’s campaign. Here is Friday’s Times editorial:
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois thinks the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups hasn’t gone far enough, and he wants to help. He’s doing some bullying of his own.
Mr. Durbin wrote to hundreds of corporate and foundation supporters of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a nonprofit organization that advances conservative policies in the state legislatures, demanding they tell him where they stand on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law. “Although ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members or donors,” he wrote, “other public documents indicate that your company funded ALEC at some point during the period between ALEC’s adoption of model ‘stand your ground’ legislation in 2005 and the present day. … I am seeking clarification whether organizations that have funded ALEC’s operations in the past currently support ALEC and the model ‘stand your ground’ legislation.”
Actually, he’s not seeking “clarification” at all, but revenge. Mr. Durbin, a Democrat, knows that ALEC focuses on economic and budget issues, and he’s trying to use the controversy over the Trayvon Martin case to intimidate corporate donors into discontinuing their support. He’s still pouting over the verdict of the jury. The spirit of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” lives.
One senator stood up to the bully. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican, suggests that the donors to ALEC stand up, too. “Senator Durbin’s request for ALEC supporters to announce an official position on gun laws in advance of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing is inappropriate, and I encourage recipients not to respond,” Mr. Cruz wrote. “In light of the current IRS targeting scandal, this action raises concerns about retaliation against those who may disagree with the chairman and the Obama Administration.”
Mr. Durbin’s bullying recalls the bullying of the NAACP during the civil rights struggles in the South. In 1956, the state of Alabama tried to force disclosure of the group’s members, knowing that many of them would feel threatened if their names became public knowledge. The Supreme Court intervened. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice John Marshall Harlan declared that “this Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations.” He agreed that making the names public would expose them to “economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of physical hostility.” Similar economic reprisal is what the senator suggests, and not so subtly, with his letter.
Foundations, corporations and plain citizens have the right to support political causes of their choice without fear of reprisal from the government, or even from a U.S. senator. ALEC’s effectiveness on the state level has made it a target of the left for decades. Mr. Durbin’s bullying is unacceptable and makes a strong case for laws to keep contributions to political groups — Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative — confidential. The IRS is under investigation by Congress for harassing political organizations, and deserves no help from anyone, not even a U.S. senator. Mr. Durbin should keep his cheering and bullying to himself.