There is a troubling trend of political intimidation against conservative individuals and groups afoot. Every American concerned with the freedom to openly participate in the political process should worry about a troubling trend of political intimidation directed against conservative groups and individuals.
Democrats trying to intimidate conservatives have the most powerful man in America as their model. Barack Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina attacked libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch in a pair of fundraising emails last week. Their offense: opposing the president’s policies.
To counter the Kochs, Messina demanded that the brothers disclose the donors of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative activist group chaired by David Koch. In doing so, whether he knew it or not, Messina was combating a legally-recognized right to political anonymity created with the explicit purpose of protecting civil rights organizations from political reprisal.
The 1958 Supreme Court decision in NAACP v. Alabama struck down laws requiring the civil rights organization to disclose its donors. The court ruled that the law would lead to political intimidation, and hence that the right to privacy for NAACP donors was protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of association.
Koch Industries responded to Messina’s campaign with appropriate indignation. “The inference” of the attack, wrote Koch’s president of government and public affairs, “is that you would prefer that citizens who disagree with the President and his policies refrain from voicing their own viewpoint. Clearly, that’s not the way a free society should operate.”
While Messina targeted Obama’s electoral opponents, some members of Congress engaged in similar intimidation tactics against congressional candidates. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who chairs the powerful Finance Committee, has reportedly threatened private companies with policy attacks if they support challengers to fellow Montana Democrat Sen. Jon Tester.
“One K-Streeter close to the Baucus operation said the senator considers a gift to [Tester challenger Rep. Denny] Rehberg a contribution against him,” according to Politico. “Another Democratic lobbyist told a client to take his name off a Rehberg fundraising event because it would be hurtful to his company, according to sources.”
Baucus has reportedly threatened to punish Rehberg’s supporters with harmful tax legislation. In other words, he will advance proposals based not on what he thinks is good policy, but according to purely political considerations. The message: companies that dare to engage in the political process had better toe the line, or risk backlash from one of the Senate’s most powerful members.
Efforts to stifle opponents’ First Amendment rights are not confined to the highly-partisan realm of campaign politics. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has taken up the case of nearly 20 Tea Party activists against “what appears to be a coordinated attempt by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to intimidate and silence these organizations in this election year,” according to ACLJ’s website.
The IRS has demanded information from these groups that ACLJ claims is far outside the scope of legitimate tax inquiries, “including the identification of members, how they are selected, who they associate with, and even what they discuss.”
Taken together, these three examples represent a troubling trend of political intimidation against conservative politicians and grassroots volunteers alike. But the ideology of those involved should not matter: all Americans, regardless of their political views or party affiliation, should be able to engage in the political process without fear of a backlash from Washington’s power brokers.