August 12, 2019
Last week, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro tweeted out the names and occupations of 44 San Antonians who have contributed the maximum amount to President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Despite a good deal of outcry from defenders of donor privacy, he’s since doubled down on his tweet, saying that the information he tweeted was already publicly accessible anyway. But is that a reasonable argument?
Goldwater Institute Senior Attorney Matt Miller joined The Andy Caldwell Show on Friday to talk about Castro’s tweet, saying that while sharing that information was indeed legal, “that doesn’t make it right.” Thanks to campaign finance disclosure laws, the names, occupations, and addresses of anyone donating more than $200 to a campaign are available to the public, but as Miller explained, finding that information takes work. An elected official tweeting that information out saves that work.
As a congressman with thousands upon thousands of Twitter followers, Castro is able to disseminate that information quickly with no work required on the part of his supporters. And that makes it much easier to target the people whose information he shared, opening them up to possible harassment and intimidation because of their political views.
In his tweet, Castro said that the 44 Trump donors whose names he shared were fueling a campaign of hate by way of their contributions, but as Miller said on the radio show, Castro has no idea why these people chose to make a donation to the Trump campaign. However, by making this charge, Castro does “legitimate harm to them—and harm to their businesses and harm to their reputations in the community”—just for choosing to participate in the political process.
Courts have held that disclosure requirements for candidate donations are constitutional because of the risk of corruption that those donations pose. But Castro’s actions show how these rules—which are supposed to prevent politicians from behaving badly—can be weaponized against ordinary citizens. And now, as Miller explains, disclosure proponents are pushing to have contributions to nonprofit groups disclosed whenever those groups support or oppose legislation—even though there can be no concerns about corruption outside of the candidate context.
Castro’s tweet was an outing of political opponents, plain and simple—the work of an “irresponsible politician.” And it can happen to anyone, regardless of the political stances they take, Miller said: “Every American should be afraid of this because that’s what our campaign finance laws have enabled.”
You can listen to Miller’s full appearance on the show above.