About a month ago, Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas made a controversial decision when he began releasing the names of Trump supporters that were residents of his San Antonio-based district.
“Sad to see so many San Antonians as 2019 maximum donors to Donald Trump,” he wrote on Twitter before specifically naming several, and including their Twitter handles. “Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as invaders.”
He then went on to name 44 individuals — all constituents — who had committed the sin of supporting a politician that he finds objectionable.
The message he sent by doing this was pretty clear. If you support Donald Trump, a sitting congressman — and the brother of Julián Castro, a presidential candidate — will use his perch and his platform to bring attention to you, with the express intent of shaming you publicly.
That can then open you up to verbal or even physical confrontation of you and your family, an attack on a business you own, or many other forms of intimidation that can be used to keep you silent and afraid.
Castro could do this, of course, because donations to political candidates are transparent. If you give to a candidate running for president, your information is published on publicly available reports made to the Federal Elections Commission. Anyone can look them up.
So why be upset at Castro?
Well, for starters, because the publishing of federal political campaign contributions is intended to help keep a watchful eye on the integrity of the candidates themselves. Seeing the donors helps us judge the candidate’s potential motivations and loyalties based on the industries, PACs and wealthy individuals giving to them.
It is also intended as a guard against corruption. If, say, a business owner gives a large donation to a candidate, who later steers funds to that company, we know something shady is happening.
Public disclosure laws are about helping to protect the people from corrupt public servants in government.
They are not about giving the government a weapon to use against people for expressing support for political candidates.
And that is the real reason why Castro’s actions were so reprehensible. He sought to use his position in government and the high profile it gave him to individually single out people who support a political adversary of his, with the intention of scaring them and others like them away from expressing their support in the future.
Sadly, the ridiculous targeting of individuals for their political opinions is hardly contained to Castro, or other hackish politicians who are desperate for attention and newspaper headlines.
A few days ago, actress Debra Messing reacted to news that Trump would be coming to Beverly Hills for a fundraiser by publicly demanding the names of the attendees. “Please print a list of all attendees please,” she tweeted at the Hollywood Reporter, who first reported the fundraiser. “The public has a right to know.”
Messing, of course, likely fails to realize that public disclosure laws will actually give her a list of people that gave money at that fundraiser when the next campaign finance filing is filed, thus her “right to know” will be satisfied in due course.
Nevertheless, she wants the list, because Hollywood’s Trump supporters must be publicly identified and be made to pay for their support. It is no longer just about Trump.
Interestingly, actress Whoopie Goldberg — no conservative by any stretch of the imagination — was the one to educate Messing on the foolishness of what she was doing.
“Listen, the last time people did this, people ended up killing themselves,” Goldberg said, in reference to the Hollywood blacklists of the McCarthy era. “Your idea of who you don’t want to work with is your personal business. Do not encourage people to print out lists because the next list that comes out, your name will be on and then people will be coming after you.”
And that is the ultimate folly of this type of political attack. What you do now will ultimately come back around to you the moment that you are the one with the unpopular opinion, or the one who supports a controversial candidate that others want to silence.
It is easy being a bully when the majority agrees with you. Just be sure you’re never in the minority.
“I am proud to be a donor when I contribute to a campaign,” Messing said on Sunday. “I am assuming anyone who donates to Trump’s fundraiser would feel the same. Why wouldn’t they?
Perhaps someday you’ll find out, Debra.