RALEIGH — Let’s suppose I happened to have scads of money, millions and millions of dollars. (OK, this exercise requires a lot of imagination.)
Now let’s suppose I decided to put some portion of my net worth, say $500,000, toward a campaign to elect a governor or a state legislator. Meanwhile, let’s suppose my business ventures involve projects that require state permits, projects that might allow me to earn millions more but also might mean that some neighboring property owners see changes to a stream that flows through both of our properties.
So, do the people of the state of North Carolina have a right to know about my political activity? Do they have a right to know that some entity created to support the political fortunes of a governor or a legislative leader decided to take my money?
In the view of many of those involved in the political money chase and those deciding who knows what, the answer increasingly is, “No, go mind your own business.”
Whether they understood its full implications, that was clearly the answer given by the Roberts-led U.S. Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision, which opened the door for corporate money to flood into political campaigns. Increasingly, it is the answer given by those who are giving huge sums through operations intended to hide the identity of donors.
The Washington Post, in a recent piece examining how a donor network headed by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch helped shield the identity of donors, didn’t come roundabout to that conclusion. It quoted people involved in the network saying exactly that.
Harassment, either from individuals opposed to the donors’ political philosophy or from the government itself, was given as justification for hiding donors’ identities.
Charles Koch, quoted from a Forbes interview, said in a society where “the president attacks us and we get threats from people in Congress, and this is pushed out and becomes part of the culture – that we are evil, so we need to be destroyed, or killed – then why force people to disclose?”
In other words, free speech should not only be free, it should be trouble-free and repercussion-free, at least when involving the wealthy and their political donations.
If unseen influence peddling results, so be it. If public confidence in government is further weakened and the standing of the political class is further eroded, it’s a small price to pay.
The Post went on to document how the Koch-led network has used what amounts to paper corporations, registered in Delaware, to help further obscure the donor money trail.
Meanwhile, big chunks of these nameless and source-less dollars – and not just from one political network – flow into North Carolina through nonprofits that act as shadow campaign organizations.
In this election year, North Carolinians can look forward to another barrage of TV ads, never really knowing who is buying the ads.
Behind all the anonymity, they should question what else is being bought and sold.
Scott Mooneyham is a syndicated columnist who writes about state government and politics.