I firmly believe that anonymous political speech is not a danger to our nation—it has played an important role throughout our history. If Thomas Paine could not have penned Common Sense anonymously, would average colonists have united behind the leaders of the American Revolution? Would our Constitution have been ratified had Hamilton, Madison, and Jay not written The Federalist Papers under a pseudonym? Anonymity in political speech protects the speaker from retribution, but it also serves a greater good: it allows the public to listen to ideas without any bias towards the messenger.
Earlier this week, The Arizona Republic republished a story about me written entirely by ProPublica, a left-leaning nonprofit funded by liberal billionaires, like George Soros, Herbert Sandler, and Tom Steyer. ProPublica spent over 7,000 words painting the activities of my firm and nonprofits with which I am involved as criminal. The authors repeatedly use the term “dark money” so as to scandalize the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR) and make legal and compliant activities seem improper. If the money were truly “dark,” these “reporters” and the public would not have broad access to information about the funds granted by CPPR and similar organizations. The public tax records referenced by ProPublica include significant information about organizational details, activities, priorities, and spending.
Founded in 2009 to fight the government takeover of healthcare that became Obamacare, CPPR does not have its own staff. Instead, the organization contracts with a variety of individuals, consultants, and vendors to accomplish its mission. CPPR has fully reported these arrangements in its tax filings for several years.
In 2012 CPPR had an incredibly large set of programs and activities. Instead of building a large, in-house staff, CPPR maintained its existing organizational structure and relied on an expanded team at DC London and an expanded roster of advisors and other consultants to service its mission and conduct its activities and programs: administering grant making activities, maintaining and developing relationships with the organization’s donors, planning, communications, research, media development.
The figures CPPR reported in its 2012 tax filing, which ProPublica described as payments to my firm DC London and Angler are not compensation, but rather a convenient billing arrangement like you might have with a contractor building your home. During the building process, you don’t receive and pay invoices for all the materials—wood, windows, pipes—and services—plumbers, electricians. Your contractor collects those expenses and sends you one, simple invoice.
DC London and Angler operated as a general contractor of sorts and warehoused expenses for CPPR. For example, Angler purchased social media advertising with Google, Facebook, and other networks. DC London built and supported a massive grassroots infrastructure in more than a dozen states, handled service contracts and subcontractors, executed millions of phone calls to grassroots supporters and voters, and conducted significant messaging and public opinion research.
In discussing the $15.8 million of these sorts of expenses that passed directly through DC London and Angler in 2012, ProPublica clearly failed to comprehend the tremendous scale of CPPR’s work and implied that a very standard and convenient billing arrangement was somehow crooked.
Then there was the rehashing of the California case, already widely reported on by The Arizona Republic and others. The author says CPPR “circumvented” California law, which of course implies intentional violation of the law. This is false. The California Attorney General and individuals working for California regulators, far more qualified than the “experts” upon which ProPublica relies, found no intentional violations occurred, in a public settlement as ProPublica is well aware. The article attempts to discount this finding by noting that CPPR’s lawyers are national experts in election law. They are, which leads to a far more interesting and pressing question: isn’t it problematic for democracy that California’s election laws are so vague and incomprehensible that an organization receiving top-notch legal advice can inadvertently run afoul? How can an average citizen or smaller organization participate in our democratic institutions without fear of doing the same? Our institutions and laws should encourage, not discourage, participation in the political process, and no one should have to ask the government or regulators for permission before doing so.
The truth, while much less intriguing than the tale woven by ProPublica, is that CPPR and the other nonprofits mentioned in the article operate in full compliance with the law. Even the authors of the piece admit, “There’s no indication that Noble or the Center are under scrutiny by authorities for violating tax or election laws.”
ProPublica hopes to bully CPPR and other conservative groups out of existence because we’ve been effective. Thanks to President Obama’s mismanagement of the country, particularly the failure of Obamacare, liberals know they can’t win against us in a fair fight of issues and ideas.
Left unreported was that unions have engaged in this kind of activity for many, many years. In 2012, union spending on politics exceeded $400 million—that we know of—and to that, I say: good for them! They have every right to engage in political speech. The difference is that conservative organizations are only very recently catching up to the level of spending that unions and the other groups on the left have maintained for years.
Now that conservatives and conservative groups are exercising their vocal chords, the “good government”-types start screaming about “dark money.” The fundamental difference between anonymous speech by conservatives and anonymous speech by unions is that union speech is largely funded by forced union dues, rather than voluntary grants by conservative individuals.
The problem for big-government liberals is that they can’t win on the substance of their argument; instead they must resort to intimidation. Their tactics include boycotts, threatening businesses, digging through divorce records to personally embarrass and hurt the families of those with whom they disagree, etc. But, before they can employ these methods, they need to know who to target. This is why they demand the disclosure of donors to conservative causes.
The best way for ProPublica and others to make this happen is by launching complaints about the political activities of nonprofits. The true purpose of this piece wasn’t to scream for transparency on behalf of American voters. It was to attack me and taint the law-abiding work of all nonprofits on the right. After all, if ProPublica really believed voters have a right to know who’s paying for political activity, they’d have the same concern for their readers and not rely so heavily on unnamed “sources.”
I’m accustomed to baseless attacks like the ProPublica piece, but I was stunned when the Arizona Republic republished, word for word, a story from clearly partisan organization without ever contacting me for comment. I have been involved in Arizona politics for two decades. The Republic is my hometown paper; I’ve interacted with its staff regularly and always held them and the publication in high esteem. I was extremely disappointed by the Arizona Republic’s complete lack of journalistic integrity in this instance.
The Republic made itself a willing tool of the Left. That is a shame and a real disappointment to this lifelong reader. The Founders would be appalled at this organized attack on political speech by the media (and the government). Consider this: the Federalist Papers were not only anonymously written, they were anonymously funded! Today, Madison, Jay, and Hamilton would be castigated as “dark money.” Good grief!