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Dick Durbin: Worse than stupid, part 9

The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore took up Dick Durbin’s campaign against ALEC last week in “ALEC strikes back.” Moore reported from ALEC’s convention in Chicago last week that Durbin’s letter to ALEC’s supporters “was all anyone was talking about.” Moore provides an optimistic take on the upshot:

“I really think the letter backfired,” says Jonathan Williams, an ALEC task force director. “It fired up a lot of our members.” The Chicago Tribune ran an editorial excoriating Mr. Durbin for challenging the free speech rights of ALEC donors and members, as did The Wall Street Journal. Those editorials were circulated to all 1,000 attendees. And the consensus view was some variation on “ALEC must be doing something right to get Durbin so angry.”

Mr. Durbin promised a Senate hearing in September on ALEC’s activities, but it may be the senator who has to answer some questions. An ALEC letter to its members sent out on Friday notes that “Members and donors to 501(c)3 organizations are specifically protected by the Internal Revenue Service and the Supreme Court to shield them from the type of political intimidation found in Senator Durbin’s letter.” Among other things, ALEC’s board is investigating how Mr. Durbin obtained a list of the group’s undisclosed donors and whether the Internal Revenue Service played a role.

A defiant Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, challenged the legality and ethics of Mr. Durbin’s heavy-handed tactics. “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,” he wrote in a letter defending the group. Mr. Cruz called it “an inappropriate governmental intrusion into the personal and political views of American citizens and businesses. 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.”

It certainly does. But this is also about money—specifically, blocking contributions to ALEC as a way to shut it down. Already, a left-wing campaign against the group has caused about a dozen major corporate members to stop contributing. Still, the backlash has been so great that Mr. Durbin’s assault may wind up being a boon for ALEC’s fundraising.

As one ALEC board member told me: “Can you imagine if Speaker [John] Boehner sent a letter to all the corporate donors of Planned Parenthood asking about their donations, how outraged the left would be?” And then he answered his own question: “If it weren’t for double standards, Mr. Durbin would have no standards at all.”

We’ll wind up this series tomorrow.

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