- - Thursday, September 5, 2019

The secret ballot dates back literally thousands of years; even the ancient Greeks voted anonymously on matters such as ostracism. (Today, of course, most ostracism takes place in full view in the sewer that is social media.) The secret ballot protects all of us and our democratic rights by allowing citizens to express their preference without fear of retaliation. It’s a crucial right to privacy, one that ensures the free and fair functioning of our political system. Secret ballots are enshrined in everything from student council and condo board elections to the vote for president of the United States.

There’s something of a loophole in the system, however: Monetary donations to political candidates and causes, no matter how minuscule, are matters of public record. There may be arguments in favor of this system based on “transparency,” but there is also an inherent danger. The disclosure of political donations opens up politically minded citizens of good faith to retaliation — and indeed, ostracism. Citizens may fear exercising their democratic rights to support candidates and causes because of the consequences they could face. The danger is real for supporters of parties on the left and the right.

The dangers, by the way, are not merely theoretical. Who can forget the case of Brendan Eich, who was CEO of the Mozilla Corp. in Silicon Valley until it was revealed that he had donated $1,000 to the campaign for Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage in California? (Note that Mr. Eich was on the side of the majority.) He was forced to resign. Not only titans of industry fell victim to onslaughts like this; even service workers were ensnared. The manager of El Coyote restaurant in Los Angeles, for instance, was also forced to resign after it was revealed that she donated a mere $100 to the pro-Proposition 8 cause.

Today, those who have the audacity to donate money to President Donald Trump’s campaign are in the crosshairs. In Pittsburgh, a local blogger posted a list of nearly 100 local businesses whose owners have donated to the incumbent and called for a boycott. “They want to cost people their livelihoods just because you don’t agree with them politically It’s not just absurd, but I believe it’s dangerous,” the chairman of the Allegheny County Republican Party observed, quite rightly.

The Olive Garden restaurant chain also recently suffered a black eye when a false rumor that its parent company was backing President Trump made the rounds on social media. That the claim was demonstrably false did little to prevent thousands of retweets and pledges to boycott the Italian food chain.

Naturally, it’s in Hollywood where the zeal to out Trump supporters is burning hottest. Actress Debra Messing of “Will and Grace” fame recently mused on Twitter that she would like to see a “list of attendees” at a scheduled fundraiser for the president. “The public has a right to know,” she said. Her “Will and Grace” co-star Eric McCormack chimed in in agreement.

John O’Hurley, a fellow comic actor who appeared in the sitcom “Seinfeld,” had the right riposte. “They’re pushing a case that falls apart from the sheer weight of its lunacy, as though the Hollywood community needs to be purged of this social and intellectual hygiene problem called conservative thinking,” Mr. O’Hurley said. “It underscores the fact that we aren’t receptive to a diversity of thought which is the exact opposite of what you feel the liberal way would be, and I find that obscene.”

Making political donations is a free speech right in the United States. But when exercising that right opens one up to danger, that right becomes merely theoretical.

Sign up for Daily Opinion Newsletter

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide