- - Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The unfolding Internal Revenue Service scandal is surely one of the most blatant abuses of power ever aimed at conservative causes. Yet as congressional investigators probe just how high the scandal goes, it’s important to understand that the IRS’ ideological targeting is just one component of a broad-based, ongoing liberal campaign to silence conservative voices in the political arena.

Ever since the Citizens United decision upheld the First Amendment right of U.S. corporations to engage in political speech, the left has been hell-bent on using the power of government to intimidate companies who have the nerve to exercise that right.

In the past few years, a bevy of groups have popped up — many funded by the professional left’s favorite hedge fund speculator, George Soros — to push specific policies aimed at bullying, threatening and silencing America’s job creators.

Both the Corporate Reform Coalition and the grandly named Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, for example, are pushing the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to adopt a formal rule requiring public companies to publicize their political contributions. Stripped of its good government rhetoric, this is nothing more than enlisting the SEC in the liberal campaign to silence opinions the left believes have no legitimate place in the political arena — like support for free markets, low taxes and less federal regulation.

First the IRS, now the SEC — and it doesn’t end there.

In addition to lobbying the SEC, these and other groups are also promoting legislation at both the federal and state levels to make an end run around the First Amendment and shut down conservative or pro-business speech. While proponents of all these measures claim their goal is simple “disclosure” of political contributions, this is merely a clever, good government ruse. The real objective is to use the cloak of disclosure to build an “enemies list” of companies that can then be demonized, disparaged, harassed and (hopefully) intimidated into silence.

New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio — a taxpayer-funded champion of corporate intimidation — was quite candid about what awaits companies that support candidates or causes offensive to the left: “We will use every tool, whether it’s actions among consumers, up to boycotts, whether it’s shareholder actions, whether it’s work from pension funds to use the power of pension funds to direct corporate America to change its ways.”

There are plenty of case studies that amply demonstrate just how brutally effective these public intimidation tactics can be.

Back in 2010, Target contributed $150,000 to a group called MN Forward, which was supporting a pro-business candidate for governor. Company President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said the intent of the donation was to “support economic growth and job creation” — hardly a controversial stand for a public company.

Yet when it was revealed that the MN Forward-supported candidate also opposed same-sex marriage, Target was immediately denounced as bigoted, homophobic, or worse. A Facebook page advocating a nationwide boycott of Target gathered a quick 44,000 friends.

A swift apology from Mr. Steinhafel wasn’t enough to satisfy leftist activists. The Human Rights Campaign demanded that Target make “equivalent contributions” to pro-same-sex marriage groups and “evaluate potential contributions in the future to include issues of LGBT-equality.”

After seeing what happened to Target, it’s easy to imagine other companies that want to support pro-business candidate decide it’s simply not worth the risk. Yet just for good measure, before the 2012 elections, a group of left-leaning groups “vowed to wreak economic and reputational damage on any company that gives corporate money to super PACs and other independent groups to sway the upcoming elections,” according to a report in the National Journal.

Of course, it goes without saying that only companies supporting conservative causes would be targeted, the same sort of ideological profiling that was going on at the IRS at the time. Yet regardless of whether it’s the IRS targeting conservatives or left-wing funded coalitions pushing for “disclosure,” the objective is always the same: Silence conservative, pro-business speech and prevent these groups from even entering the political playing field.

It’s certainly disturbing that today’s left has chosen to embrace the Nixonian use of “enemies lists” to achieve its political ends. It would be even more disturbing if companies let them get away with it by giving up their First Amendment rights to participate in the political process.

Dan Pero is president of the American Justice Partnership, an organization that promotes legal reform and judicial accountability at the state level.