We got it via e-mail and a subsequent Google search turned up the fact that it was originally posted by Ben Howe at Redstate, but there’s an open letter going around over the question of the Obama administration’s demand that Crossroads GPS – a 501(c)4 organization which is legally allowed to protect the anonymity of its donors while practicing issue advocacy and voter education – disclose the identity of its supporters.
When this first hit the wires, it created a relatively small ripple. Clearly the Obama administration/campaign is attempting to attack its political enemies amid the appearance they’re going to be drastically outspent this fall by the anti-Obama side; going after Crossroads GPS is an effort to intimidate people willing to vote against the president with their wallets and there are an awful lot of those.
It’s the kind of thing you’d say is a major outrage – the attempt to limit the First Amendment rights of those who disagree with you for mere political reasons is a fundamental breach of the American compact. But with this administration, it’s a small thing. There are many outrages, and larger ones.
In any event, here’s the letter. You’ll see that it’s an unmistakable broadside to the administration.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE OBAMA CAMP
Dear Obama campaign (and his allies),
Recently, you filed a complaint with the New York Times — er, I mean the FEC — demanding that Crossroads GPS be forced to disclose its donors. You did not argue that Crossroads GPS does not engage in issue advocacy. You simply claimed that their issue advocacy was “not in the national interest” and that their “purpose” was to elect Republicans.
That’s an interesting play, but I don’t think you’ve thought this all the way through. Let me spell out some things for you.
- Crossroads GPS cannot be unaware that they have a target painted on their back, which is why they have some of the top legal minds in campaign finance making sure they stay within the law. Is that really the hill you want to climb for a precedent-setting case? See: Citizens United.
- Think about the implications of arguing that speech (including expenditures) that has the effect of influencing voters can be regulated, or disclosure forced, by government. This was the issue in the John Edwards trial. This precedent would grant government a virtually unlimited right to interfere with any speech or activity so long as it might plausible have some impact on elections. If you succeed in regulating independent speech from conservatives, how long do you think it will be before the Democracy Alliance, Ford Foundation, Open Society, Tides and the people behind them get a rectal exam? How long do Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century Foundation think their donors would remain undisclosed?
- We will gladly oppose government intervention for all, but we will not let you stack the deck against us. If it’s war you want, your allies have plenty to lose.
- It’s quite cynical of you to assume that the Democrats who bragged about all the outside money in 2004 — or about all the money Obama was raising in 2008 — will suddenly discover how much they hate all that awful, no good “money in politics.” You’re probably right about your party believing whatever is in its electoral interest to believe. It will be fun to document the hypocrisy.
- If you think attacking “money in politics” energizes the Democratic base, wait until you see what attempted political intimidation of conservatives does to the Republican base. Does Obama really want to spent the next few months arguing about whether he will, as Sen. McConnell predicted, “use the powers of government to silence” his opponents? We’ll be happy to have that argument. And speaking of which…
- Shortly before the Obama campaign asked the FEC to investigate Crossroads GPS, Bloomberg reported that an IRS decision “revoking the tax-exempt status of a small political nonprofit organization may foreshadow an investigation into groups such as Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA that spend millions on the 2012 U.S. presidential election.” So Obama’s IRS established a bit of administrative precedent in the least politically painful way possible (dinging inconsequential allies by having the IRS make an administrative decision about their legal status), then a story said that this “foreshadow[ed] an investigation into Crossroads GPS….and then, almost as if it was a coordinated plan, Obama’s campaign launched the complaint about Crossroads GPS.
- If I was Crossroads GPS, I would be awfully eager to get into a court. The discovery period would be fascinating. If there is even a *hint* that the Obama administration leaned on the IRS to do this — and then coordinated it with the campaign attack on Crossroads GPS — it would be one of the biggest scandals since Watergate. Nixon had people break into his opponents headquarters. This is using the IRS to pick the locks and the FEC to compile your enemies list.
- The left succeeded in astroturfing campaign finance reform into law 10 years ago. This time, we know what’s coming. We have read your playbook. We know who your players are. If you want to surround yourself with shady, unstable people like David Brock — and all the awkward baggage he carries — or with the Billionaire Dems Club (Rob McKay, Donald Sussman and everyone else at the Democracy Alliance), then you should expect us to fight fire with fire.
- Of course, none of this has to happen. You don’t have to threaten private citizens with political retaliation. But if you do, remember how vulnerable Democrats are. Remember that your two main SuperPACs — Priorities USA and American Bridge — have accepted sizable donations from their affiliated 501c4′s, despite Obama’s “donor disclosure” demand. Some people might call that “money laundering.” There is bound to be a complaint. If that is the way you want to fight.
If you want to pretend that Crossroads’ TV ads represent “money in politics”, but the left’s (Labor and Foundation) hundreds of millions (annually) on research, organizing and activism are…..something else, you can try that. But I can promise you that you will not get to decide where this fight ends. And when this fight reaches your shadows — the Foundations, the Democracy Alliance, the labor unions, the international interests, and others — you will regret ever starting down the path of attacking free speech.
Howe says the writer isn’t some yahoo in the sticks, nor is he Karl Rove…
I will not disclose the author, except to say that it is somebody who is in a position to know many of these things. It is not somebody who has any association with American Crossroads with whom the writer speaks about in the email.
Things like this make for well-justified fears for the future. Because politics in this country used to have some sense behind it that there were some things you didn’t do out of a fear that you’d break the process and open yourself up to all kinds of horrors. Now, we’ve got a political class – I would argue it’s mostly on the left, but there are Republican examples as well – which is not just opening Pandora’s Box but rummaging through it. The president specifically going after Crossroads GPS out of expressly political motives, while not exactly unprecedented (Richard Nixon was famous for moves like that) is a signal that he doesn’t respect the rules both sides agreed on. That signal will be countered by the other side, and we’ll have a race to the bottom.
Or maybe not. Maybe Obama will be rebuffed in his attempt to intimidate Rove and his donors, and maybe we’ll see cooler heads prevail once this election is over.
But right now this president will sink to any depths to win, and later this week we’ll have more on actions which are even worse than this.