FREE SPEECH — Bill Cavala, writing in CaliforniaProgressReport.com,
says mandatory disclosure of the sources of campaign contributions to candidates for office is
considered a justifiable limitation of privacy because of public concern
that the money given can act as a bribe. But if contributionsviewed
as speech equivalents under the First Amendmentneed anonymity to be
really free, then contributions to ballot measures may demand more
privacy, he says.
balancing act between our right and need to know whos trying to buy
our public officials and the right of the buyers to privacy and
anonymity. Cast in this manner, disclosure wins.
But ballot measures are different animalslegally. The (U.S. Supreme) Court has held
that contributions to ballot measures may not be limited as they may be
with contributions to candidates. The reason is simple: candidates can
be corruptedor may appear to be corruptedundercutting the faith of
the people in a Democratic form of government. This possibility alone,
the Court reasoned, justifies ignoring the First Amendment
rights of politicians. But ballot measures dont involve corruptible
politicians. Contributions to ballot measures are used to inform
voters. And voters, by definition, cannot be corrupted by
informationso it doesnt matter who pays for it.
The issue is of high current interest because the forced disclosure and widespread publicizing of ballot measure contributors is the subject of an aggressive legal challenge by backers of Proposition 8, on First Amendment grounds. On the other hand, contributions to ballot measures can be appropriated for other uses
by politicians sponsoring the measures, and that fact has just prompted a new regulatory crackdown, as reported by the Los Angles Times.
Funds raised by politicians for ballot-measure campaigns must be spent on specific propositions, the Fair Political Practices Commission ruled. There are no limits on how much money can be raised for such accounts.
"They have been treated as rather open-ended slush funds for whatever purpose the officeholder wants to use the funds for," said commission Chairman Ross Johnson. "What we're saying is, if you are going to accept unlimited contributions . . . it's got to be tied to a ballot measure."