Jonathan Chait, a Senior Editor at The New Republic, seized on a quote in the New York Times by CCP Chairman Brad Smith discussing the hoopla surrounding a California conference hosted by the owners of Koch Industries, Inc. Chait snidely distorted Smith’s words from the Times:
The protest was “an open assault on rights of association,” said Bradley A. Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School, whose writings on easing campaign finance restrictions have been influential among conservatives.
The Koch retreat “will harm no one,” Professor Smith said. “They are not going to do any more than talk and listen to speakers. That this alarms these protesters is an ironic commentary on their lack of faith in the American electorate and the power of their own ideas.”
In a post entitled “Adventures In Freedom Of Speech,” Chait smugly wrote that the argument is “ridiculous,” paraphrasing Brad, incorrectly, as believing the protest “violates the [the Koch brothers’] fundamental right to be spared from criticism.”
Nowhere in the New York Times article did Smith say that the rights of the Koch brothers—or any of the other attendees—had been violated.
There is much irony, though, in the protests, which were organized by Common Cause, the Center for American Progress, California labor unions and other institutions of the left.
First, ferrying in 10 busloads of protestors is not free, nor is supporting the oft-incorporated, organizational structures that make such rallies and their promotion possible. Surely this supports the rationale of the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (and Buckley v. Valeo), which did not find that “money is speech,” but rather found that there are important and necessary links between speaking and the ability to spend money to support that speech (and that the government cannot prohibit independent speech based on the speaker’s identity).
Second, the protest was self-evidently an assault on the First Amendment associational rights of the Koch brothers and their invited guests. The protestors did not cloak their desire for the Kochs to be silenced—banned from speaking out on political issues (This is not the same as the government “violat[ing]” First Amendment rights). For instance, one protester waved a sign reading “NEUTER FERAL FATCATS” with faux blood splatter and a Swastika. Cute. Perhaps that sentiment represented a minority of the few hundred attendees, but the gathering seemed motivated by hatred of the political opposition rather than a noble sense of civic engagement.
As Brad mentioned in the Times, the Koch conclave harmed no one. The Kochs simply hosted an exchange of political and policy ideas. That this alarmed the assembled coalition of Koch-haters is an ironic commentary on their lack of faith in the American voters and the power of their own ideas.
Chait charged Brad with holding the view that “corporations have a… further right not to have anybody gather to protest their activities.” Nonsense. That’s not a fair reading of the New York Times piece. The Kochs have every right to hold an event to assemble like-minded individuals to discuss politics and policy. Common Cause and their comrades have every right to protest the events. And everyone else retains the right to call the lot of them fools, misguided or [pick your pejorative description].