Every hour, a computer program, or “bot,” tweets out the name, job, and address of a donor to President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign.
The apparent goal is sunshine — a more sinister objective may be intimidation. In either case, the account is taking advantage of disclosure laws, and using them to name and shame people.
“Precedents protecting civil liberties, established over a half century of painstaking litigation, could be brushed aside in the sudden hysteria for ‘full disclosure.'”
It’s not an unprecedented bot — or even an unprecedented tactic.
Twitter has a few other accounts that have done the same thing. One account listed every donor for the Democrats. But both “Every GOP Donor” and “Every Dem Donor” stopped tweeting on Nov. 8 — Election Day. Every Trump Donor keeps tweeting, every hour.
James O’Keefe III, the conservative activist, noted on Twitter that had he done the same thing with public data, he would have been banned from the social media network.
There is potentially plenty of material for political operatives to use. According to Brad Smith, a former Federal Election Commission member and a Capital University law professor, 49 states and the federal government require some disclosure of campaign contributions and spending.
As for the tactic of trying to embarrass donors with this data, it is old hat. In 2008, after California narrowly passed a referendum keeping a ban on gay marriage, the Left went ballistic.
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So they began asking for the names on petitions that got the referendum — known as Proposition 8 — on the ballot.
In Washington State, supporters of same-sex marriage also targeted those who signed a similar petition. The state declined to name names, but soon the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state to turn over the data. About 138,000 people signed the Washington State petition, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The appellate court’s order was delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court could hear the case. And they sided with disclosure proponents. On June 24, 2010, only Justice Clarence Thomas objected in a case that went 8-1 in favor of allowing the same-sex advocates to get the names.
Previous decisions indicated the court believed that the Constitution “protects against the compelled disclosure of political associations and beliefs.” And in Doe v. Reed, Thomas argued, unsuccessfully, that disclosure of all petition signers could chill future political activity.
Disclosure laws, some worry, allow one side to target, suppress, or harass the other side — either in the current political battle or election, or the next one.
KnowThyNeighbor.org, the national gay rights organization which fought for disclosure, said signing a petition should be public, and gives the people the right to examine petition drives.
But it isn’t just campaign finance data or signatures on a ballot petition that can be used to target political opponents.
Frequently, political opponents use other publicly available data to “dox” (or “doxx”) people they oppose or dislike. Dictionary.com defines doxxing as “(to)
Doxxing people on Twitter and elsewhere is not that uncommon. But the use of data to harass and shame politically involved persons — even lightly involved people — is a disturbing new trend.
And it could get worse. After Donald Trump shocked the world and won on Nov. 8, at least two employers publicly declared they would not tolerate Trump supporters. One company’s CEO, Mathew Blanchfield of 1st in SEO of New Mexico, said Trump’s Republican supporters are not welcome as clients.
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In this type of environment, it’s understandable why people don’t want too much information about them made public.
One major skeptic of disclosure laws is Smith, the former member of the FEC.
Smith is known for opposing most campaign finance laws as violations of the First Amendment. But Smith is skeptical of disclosure laws, which are usually the “great compromise” that even Republicans readily agree to. Not everyone wants regulation limits on donations — but everyone wants disclosure, right?
Not Smith. (Smith did not return a message in time for this article.)
In a 2013 essay, Smith said proposed new regulations have overlooked some serious problems of increased compulsory disclosure. Such disclosure laws became all the talk after the Supreme Court allowed greater political freedom in campaign spending in 2010, in Citizens United v. FEC.
But Smith warned of the consequences for civil liberties. Smith said after the Washington and California petitioners’ names were made public, some of the opponents of same-sex marriage received angry phone calls, were confronted by individuals in public places, had pictures taken of them and then posted to Facebook, were pushed and yelled at in public, and had garbage thrown on them.
Some lost jobs.
Smith notes these incidents can happen across the spectrum. Such tactics have hit conservatives and liberals.
And for what good? Smith said disclosure laws “neither provide the public with good information, nor solve the alleged problems of ‘secret money.'”
“Further, they will come at a price in political freedom and safety from government and private retaliation,” Smith wrote. “Precedents protecting civil liberties, established over a half century of painstaking litigation, could be brushed aside in the sudden hysteria for ‘full disclosure.'”
All so someone can tweet out donor information on Twitter, with names and occupations, every hour — perhaps hoping one of these donors will be targeted, fired, or yelled at.