Gillespie’s bad argument

GILLESPIE’S BAD ARGUMENT…. The Democratic campaign committees are no doubt pleased to have a financial advantage over their Republican counterparts, but that edge disappears when one considers the legion of well-funded, right-wing organizations — taking in money hand over fist — funding attack ads targeting Democrats.

A Washington Post analysis recently found that 85% of the flood of money from “independent” groups is going to support Republican candidates. The Associated Press came to a similar conclusion, reporting yesterday that “groups allied with the Republican Party and financed in part by corporations and millionaires have amassed a crushing 6-1 advantage in television spending, and now are dominating the airwaves in closely contested districts and states.”

Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, who has partnered with Karl Rove for the well-financed American Crossroads project, concedes that Americans must not be allowed to know who’s financing his attack ads. If the public knew who was trying to buy the elections for Republicans, the argument goes, those wealthy conservatives doing the financing might be subjected to public scrutiny. And the next thing you know, some liberal might be mean to them or something.

It led Adam Serwer to raise a good point about the Palinization of the First Amendment.

…Gillespie wants to have it a Palinesque both ways — he wants to see money as speech and shield those who are speaking from having to face any kind of public accountability for that speech. There’s nothing that makes a millionaire shelling out cash for his favorite right-wing cause any more legitimate a form of political speech than liberals staging a public protest, such that the former should be shielded with a shroud of anonymity. […]

It’s worth noting that by Justice Antonin Scalia’s standard, Gillespie’s argument is an outrageous form of political cowardice…. If a political cause is worth giving money to, it’s worth standing up for publicly.

Quite right. I’d add one other angle, though: whatever happened to the right’s love of disclosure?

For years, as campaign finance reform gained momentum, conservatives said any new legal restrictions were wholly unnecessary — just mandate disclosure and the problem can take care of itself. If voters could see who was funding whom, the argument went, candidates would rise or fall accordingly. Caps, limits, and stand-by-your-ad phrasing constituted legally-dubious overkill.

I’ve always been skeptical about disclosure as a cure-all, but Gillespie’s spin suggests even the old Republican argument is now considered excessive. To hear him tell it, we can’t have campaign-finance restrictions and we can’t let the public know who’s financing the ad campaigns that sway election outcomes.

And once the Rove/Gillespie model proves effective by electing a whole lot of Republicans this year, it’ll be duplicated for the foreseeable future. Voters will be in the dark, but I’m sure the secretive billionaires’ favorites will write laws that benefit working families, right?