Disclosure Laws Bring Implicit Threats

That sound you hear is the bat slapping against a Congressman’s hand.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) has proposed cutting foreign aid for countries that consistently vote against America’s interest at the United Nations. Chabot’s position mirrors earlier proposals by former UN ambassadors John Bolton and Jeane Kirkpatrick. The message is simple: “If we are giving money to countries consistently voting against our interest, we ought to cut them off.”

The logic is easy to see. And this is a perfectly normal response to disclosed information. After all, as Chabot might say, if we’re paying these countries, they damn better well stay bought.

This logic can also apply to domestic politics. President Obama’s proposed executive order would force companies to reveal which campaigns their employees have donated to in order to participate in the government contracting process. The Chabot Doctrine could easily apply. Three companies submit a bid for a government contract, and one company seems to heavily tilt in the direction of the wrong party? And the contract goes “poof.”

The same risk exists with donor disclosure. Campaign donations of only a few hundred dollars hardly present a risk of quid pro quo corruption, yet names and addresses of small donors are posted on the Web by the government. Bosses, landlords, and lending institutions are all in a position to look this information up. Unless one is quite sure that nobody with any power in their life won’t abuse it if they find out about your political donations, the prudent response is to limit contributions, or stop giving altogether. As a result, money in politics could ultimately become only dominated only by the powerful, with little to no Jane Six-Pack involvement

Maybe Congressman Chabot’s solution makes sense in the context of U.S. foreign policy; but it sure doesn’t make sense when its applied to Americans.