Responses to a few ‘reform’ voices

Every so often I run across an item from the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community attacking the Center for Competitive Politics for things that are just false or absurd. I’m not talking about the normal sharp disagreements between us and groups like Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, and countless other ‘reform’ groups over what the First Amendment means, how campaign finance laws should be interpreted, the role of money in politics and public policy discussions, and similar matters.  

No, I’m referring to flat-out false statements about our positions on issues, or serious distortions and omissions that don’t hold up to even the briefest scrutiny.

I rarely address these things on the blog, because we try to use this space to promote our ideas and vision of a robust and free political system unhindered by government restraints on citizens’ First Amendment political rights. Occasionally I might send a private e-mail to a reporter responding to something, or even a letter to the editor to be published. But I’m usually not interested in getting into exchanges with bloggers who have 3 readers or who are clearly uninterested in facts.

But, with the crash of American society apparently imminent according to some if the debt ceiling isn’t raised next Tuesday (CCP of course takes no position on what should be done or not done on this issue, but much like Y2K, 2012, and the Zombie Apocalypse, we’re not oblivious to such matters either), and with a few recent false statements about CCP floating around out there I thought I might as well take what may be one final opportunity to set the record straight on these items before heading to my own personal undisclosed location to wait things out.

Top of the list is a story from The Nation concerning the American Legislative Exchange Council ALEC, voter ID, and CCP. Writer John Nichols of The Nation writes in his ‘expose’ of ALEC:

Republicans have argued for years that “voter fraud” (rather than unpopular policies) costs the party election victories. A key member of the Corporate Executive Committee for ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, which began highlighting voter ID efforts in 2006, shortly after Karl Rove encouraged conservatives to take up voter fraud as an issue.

I’m sure some Republicans do argue they lose elections due to voter fraud, just as there are some Democrats who argue the same. And I am indeed on the Executive Committee for the Public Safety and Elections Task Force for ALEC. But CCP wasn’t involved in “highlighting voter ID efforts” in 2006 or since – it’s just not an issue we deal with (and personally, I tend to be skeptical of claims of widespread voter fraud or suppression by either party).  

A quick search of our web site will find a grand total of three references to voter ID, only one of which actually address the topic, and that’s just three brief paragraphs noting that the Supreme Court decided Crawford v. Indiana upholding voter ID requirements against a facial challenge, but suggesting the law might be vulnerable to as-applied challenges.

So, despite what Nichols writes, it’s pretty difficult to see CCP as a tool of Karl Rove pushing voter ID laws.

The second correction that needs to be made was in a blog post at OMB Watch. In late May, commenting on our opposition to President Obama’s proposed executive order on government contractors, Gary Therkildsen wrote that CCP opposed all disclosure of money spent in politics. I noted this falsehood in a Tweet:

@seanparnellCCP:  #OMBWatch falsely sez CCP opposes all disclosure: http://tinyurl.com/3v8rk3z FTR, support disclosure of large contribs to candidates/parties

I can’t post what Therkeldsen originally wrote, because since then the blog post has been changed in response to my statement. It currently reads:

As Sean Parnell of the conservative, let’s-allow-unlimited-corporate-money-to-dominate-the-political-process Center for Competitive Politics ridiculously claims: the Cole amendment is a “strong rebuke to the executive branch’s effort to bring politics into the federal contracting process and enable the creation of a Nixon-style Enemies List.”

Originally, and I’m paraphrasing here since the original language has been removed, we were described as something like the ‘conservative, let’s-never-disclose-any-money-in-the-political-process Center for Competitive Politics.’ As CCP has made clear countless times, we do in fact favor disclosure, so long as it’s focused on large contributions made to candidates and parties.

Therkeldsen changed his post to reflect an e-mail I also sent him, and he notes this at the bottom of the post as it reads now. But he couldn’t just note that he was wrong and add whatever editorial commentary he felt appropriate, he had to get cute:

*This post has been updated to better reflect the mission of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP). In response to this post, CCP President Sean Parnell complained that OMB Watch “falsely sez [sic] CCP opposes all disclosure.” It was wrong of me to make that claim, because CCP supports the disclosure, as Sean says, of “large contribs [sic] to candidates/parties.”

Note the [sic] insertions after ‘sez’ and ‘contribs.’ Ha ha, what a numbskull that Sean Parnell is, he misspelled ‘says’ and ‘contributions’ in his complaint! Hilarious!

Left out, of course, is that ‘sez’ and ‘contribs’ are pretty common shorthand on Twitter, which of course only allows 140 characters and spaces. And doing a character count of my Tweet finds that there are exactly 140 characters and spaces in it (if nothing else, Twitter is teaching the world how to be succinct), so shorthand was obviously necessary.

Similar fun with editing was had by Lisa Rosenberg over at Sunlight Foundation, responding to my blog post yesterday on the dangers of excessive disclosure:

…SuperSecret Parnell, has emerged from a smoke filled room with a solution to save the day with this brave plan: “Disclosure requirements should…be modernized to sharply curtail the public availability of all but the most vital information on the private political preferences and activities of citizens.” (Flabbergasted emphasis my own).

SuperSecret is embarking on his noble deed to save that frail and gentle damsel in distress, the Wealthy Donor (cleverly disguised as the demure “Small Business Owner”)…

Fun stuff, as far as sarcasm goes. As analysis and a response to what I actually wrote though, it’s pretty weak stuff. The part of my statement that was edited out by Rosenberg, a total of five words, was “reflect this new reality, and.” Editing those words out allows Rosenberg to ignore having to explain what “new reality” I’m talking about, namely the growing trend towards harassment, threats of physical violence, vandalism, and other forms of retribution being exacted by enraged extremists against people that are being identified through disclosure of relatively modest contributions (as little as a $100 donation to either side of the Prop 8 battle was enough to make people a target).

Also, and this is more rhetorical sleight-of-hand than editorial manipulation, Rosenberg has transformed people I described as “giving a few hundred dollars to a candidate or interest group” into “Wealthy Donors” in her words. Now, a few hundred dollars is real money, but I hardly think the people giving these amounts inspire images of plutocrats lighting cigars with Treasury notes.

At the Center for Competitive Politics, we regularly urge judges, elected officials, the media, and the public at large to be skeptical of laws and regulations that infringe on the First Amendment political rights of speech, assembly, and petition. As shown here, it’s also probably worth being skeptical of the statements made about the Center by our adversaries in the ‘reform’ community.

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