Writing about the Koch confab referenced in today’s morning links, my friend Dave Weigel points out that Mother Jones has published profiles of some top donors to various Koch organizations. Dave comments:
And it’s just a disgrace that this information is smuggled out of a meeting like a heroin shipment, instead of being disclosed. The Tea Party movement, the GOP, etc — no one who benefits from this disagrees with the goals of these people in making more money. Why hide it?
First, I wouldn’t assume that everyone who donates to these causes does so to enact policies that will make them more money. The Kochs themselves, for example, spend money advocating for an end to ethanol subsidies, even though their business benefits from those subsidies. You could certainly call that hypocrisy. But it doesn’t fit the narrative that their political activism is all about enriching themselves. The easier explanation is simply that they’re free market ideologues. And if you’re not a free market ideologue, that’s a fine reason to criticize them.
But I also want to address Dave’s point about disclosure. I can think of lots of reasons why someone wouldn’t want their donations to political causes to be made public. For example, there’s a bi-partisan history in this country of using the IRS to target the political opponents of the party in the White House. I could also see a business executive not necessarily wanting a regulatory agency to know that he’s donating money to groups that would like to dismantle or diminish that agency’s power.
I suppose those two examples aren’t going to win much sympathy from Koch critics. So let me offer a couple more: I could also see why a progressive-minded businessman in, say, Salt Lake City, would want to keep secret his donation to a group advocating for gay marriage in California. Or why the trust fund kid of a Raytheon executive may not want his family to know he gives to anti-war organizations.
But the best example of what I’m getting at here may come from Mother Jones itself. Mother Jones is published by a non-profit organization called the Foundation for National Progress, which “exists to publish and support Mother Jones.” Which means that the magazine is mostly funded by donors. So who donates to Mother Jones? Good question. They won’t say!
We do not share your name, address, email address, or any other personally identifiable information about your donation with anyone else.
So like quite a few other progressive organizations, Mother Jones doesn’t release the names of its donors, even as they criticize free market groups (often falsely) for the same thing. Put another way, the magazine reserves the right to protect the anonymity of the people who fund the magazine’s investigative journalism, which this week included exposing the identity of donors to political causes—who wished to remain anonymous.
I can certainly conceive of reasons why a donor to Mother Jones’ (often excellent) investigative journalism may want to donate anonymously. I can also see why Mother Jones would want to offer them the option of anonymity. I also support the legal right of both to do so. (I oppose mandatory disclosure laws.) What I don’t quite understand is why anonymous giving to politically-minded organizations only becomes a threat to democracy (or substitute your own favorite hyperbole) when it’s done by free market organizations.
One final point, which I’ve made before. The fun irony here is that the most well-known Koch-funded groups actually are quite transparent. Cato, the Reason Foundation, and Heritage, for example, are all much more forthcoming with donor names than the progressive organizations who criticize free market groups for their secrecy. Better yet, not only do all three of those free market organizations disclose voluntarily, they also oppose mandatory disclosure laws that would force an organization like Mother Jones to disclose the names of its donors. That strikes me as a pretty principled (and self-handicapping) position.
These progressive groups, on the other hand, are exactly the opposite. They’re demanding transparency from their political opponents while keeping the identities of their own donors a secret.