Last week, I wondered if Paul Soglin, who wants to know who funds WMC and its election ads, was being paid for his campaign against WMC and by whom. I had a feeling that he had said he was being paid and it turns out that he is. Good for him.
But we still don't know who is paying him and apparently he isn't going to tell us.
But, he says, he is not trying to influence an election. Well, no, not directly, although the controversy around WMC is all about what will happen in future elections. Actual and potential candidates have a great interest in how it comes out. Might, just to throw out a few examples, interests associated with the Democratic Party or persons interested in the reelection of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, choose to fund anti-WMC activities as part of a strategy for the next election cycle? Might Paul Soglin's clients be the same people who funded ads in last spring's Supreme Court race?
Beyond that, if we have some expectation or interest in knowing who is trying to influence us, it's not evident that this should only apply to support for or against a particular candidate. Although there is arguably not as great a possibility for quid pro quo type corruption, i.e., a candidate deciding that she owes a funder favors (but see the preceding paragraph), there is quite a difference of opinion on whether the anti-corruption rationale is a sufficient justification for burdening independent expenditures that don't directly call for the election or defeat of a candidate. (Compare, for example, this case with this one.)Folks arguing for disclosure also say that it helps the public evaluate claims and, if you are Judith Faulkner, it aids in knowing who not to buy things from.
But, you say, why is mere disclosure of who is funding something burdensome? This is where Mayor Soglin's current recalcitrance is instructive. I imagine the reason that he won't identify his clients is that they don't want him to. I can imagine all sorts of reasons for that - some understandable and some less so. Perhaps they fear backlash from the Judy Faulkners of the right. Maybe they don't want their identity to taint Soglin's credibility. Perhaps they are just the private sort. The point is that, when it comes to his own activities, Soglin thinks that the desire for confidentiality ought to be respected.
I don't bring this up to suggest that Paul is engaged in anything untoward. He's not. He is doing political work on behalf of partisans. I don't even think he should be legally obligated to disclose his clients. But, then again, I don't make those claims about WMC either.
When you decide to make a point about someone else taking money in the shadows, shouldn't you take yours in the sun?