We had a wonderful edition of “On the Issues” with Mike Gousha last week with my former partner, Mike Grebe, now CEO of the Bradley Foundation. Mike is a great guy who has had a wonderful career. Bradley is a generous supporter of the law school and has been a tremendous force for good in the community and nationally. (By way of full disclosure, Bradley funds the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and I have a relationship with them.)
I could go on about Mike, but I’d rather disagree with him. In response to a question of the audience, he criticized the McCain-Feingold Act and other efforts to wring money out of politics.
I agree with that.
But Mike went on to say that he believes that the answer to concerns about undue influence is mandatory disclosure. We should all know who has given what to whom.
I used to believe that.
Now I’m not so sure.
The difficulty is in the politicization of what used to be nonpolitical. It is in the shrinkage of those spaces in which we could put our political differences aside.
Much has been written about efforts to publicize (and map the addresses) of supporters of Proposition 8 in California. In our little part of the world, AALS engaged in a curious, ineffective and symbolic boycott of a hotel owned by a supporter of the Proposition.
This type of pressure is even placed upon lawyers engaged in pro bono representation. Locally, an advocacy group bearing the ironic name of One Wisconsin tried to organize a phone campaign to pressure the employer of a young lawyer who was engaged in the pro bono representation of parties contending that the Wisconsin marriage amendment was constitutionally enacted.
And, I know, its not just the political left. A Bush administration official suggested that corporate clients might want to drop law firms that had offered pro bono representations to Guantanomo detainees. Not cool.
Most of the time, the identity of a lawyer and her client will be public knowledge and nothing can – or should – be done about it.
But the willingness of partisans to engage in economic warfare against their opponents suggests to me that disclosure of contributions is not am unmitigated good.
I appreciate that the frequently offended are exercising their first amendment rights. I appreciate that they think they are subjecting the politically active to the “test of the market place.”
They can do these things. I just think they shouldn’t.
The problem with making too much of life political is that it will inevitably result in escalation. If the left decides that the NFL must be pressured not to allow Rush Limbaugh as a team owner, then the right may feel compelled to agitate against Keith Olbermann’s participation in NBC’s Sunday night coverage.
And that will result in a substantial decrease in public participation. If people are going to boycott my place of business or otherwise seek to ostracize me because I have supported a particular candidate or cause (or represented an unpopular client), I may well decide that speaking out or acting as an advocate for something that I believe in or a client that needs representation is simply not worth it.
This will be particularly true for speakers who are in a business or profession that requires them to appeal to a broad spectrum of persons. Few businesses can decide to appeal only to conservative or liberal customers. The easiest course of action when someone complains about the political participation of its owners or employees is to shut up.