Does Freedom of Spech imply Freedom of Anomymity?

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mstaggerlee's picture

I listened to  a podcast today (yes, I'm woefully behind!) in which Thom and some RWNJ argued about the subject of transparancy as it relates to political contributions.  The whacko Thom was debating claimed that any attempt to enforce a policy of transparancy with regard to political donations would threaten the right of the contributor to remain anonymous while taking advantage of his free speech rights.  I think we need to  examine this claim pretty closely.

I was brougt up to believe that what we call "freedom" is FAR from free - countless people died to earn freedom for the American people, and many more struggle daily to maintain it for us today.  Thus, I would say that freedom implies responsibility.  As a child, I earned my "freedom" (e. g., my allowance, and the ability to travel around my neighborhood as I chose), by doing my chores ... i. e., by accepting the responsibilities assigned to me.  If I shirked those responsibilities, soome of my "rights" were taken away - I was grounded, or my allowance was withheld.  The lesson was simple and direct - THERE IS NO FREEDOM IN THE ABSENCE OF RESPONSIBILITY!

When the Framers of the Constitution were working on the Bill of Rights, I am rather certain that when they were discussing the concept of Freedom of Speech, there was a tacit understanding among them all that the "Free Speaker" must be willing to accept some degree of consequences for his speech.  The Government could not restrict one's right to speak, but it also could not restrict another's right to respond.  My free speech may anger you, causing you to punch me in the nose.  Sure, I can have you arrested for assault and battery, but my nose still hurts!  Perhaps, instead of punching me in the nose, you might instead begin to air your own views, prove that mine are incorrect and embarrass the pants off me.  In either event, or in countless other scenarios there are consequences that I must be willing to accept if I wish to speak freely.  If I do not wish to accept said consequences, I am also free to keep my mouth shut.  Free speech is not about holing yourself up in a locked building with a microphone, and a loudspeaker on the roof, broadcasting your manifesto to the masses unseen and unknown.  It's about delivering your views while standing on a Soap Box on Main Street, where everybody & their brother can SEE AND HEAR you.

So when the Nut Jobs like Mitch McConnell, Judge Napolitano, and whichever fool Thom was debating about transparency of donations bring up how that would threaten the anonymity of the donor, the only necessary response is "So what??!! - Who ever said that Americans have a right to ANONYMOUS free speech?  NOBODY, that's who!"  The right that you DO have is to speak your piece, and then to take your lumps for it!




LysanderSpooner's picture
I agree that the identity of

I agree that the identity of the donations should only be released voluntarily.  The non-coercive answer to this serious problem is very simple.  Don't vote for any candidate who doesn't tell you where his money came from.  Any organization that doesn't divulge who donates to them should be suspect.

I think that a few anonymous wealthy individuals were able to fund Gene McCarthy's anti-war Presidential run.  Gladly, this may have shortened that unconstitutional, and therefore, illegal war supported by LBJ and most Republicans.

Clarence Thomas also believes

Clarence Thomas also believes that money is speech, and that speech should be unidentifiable.  He also thinks that actual speech, whereby sound exits one's mouth and enters another's ear, is worthless in jurisprudence.

Oh, and he also believes that prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" only applies to punishment that the punisher expressly (no doubt in writing) intends to be cruel and unusual.

Suppose that you had not been

Suppose that you had not been around this for awhile and discovered "America" afresh, would you think you had dropped in on a Lewis Carroll fantasy or an Orwellian nightmare?  How about Kafka or HG Wells?  Poe, anyone?  I think Dickensworld is the next venture capitalist theme park.

Yeah, money is speech and my ass farts silver clouds.  I think the ability to be heard matters, and that "free speech" is about citizens exchanging points of view in public and "in person."  Anonymous belongs to whistleblowers, who get no respect from the Cons.

Capital.0's picture
Sorry...  Didn't some of the

Sorry...  Didn't some of the Founder's use  pseudonym  names when writing?  


Is anonymity also implied by

Is anonymity also implied by freedom of speech. In short - no, not directly IMO. I think the legally controlling factor here is possibly in the forum in which the speech occurs. In many cases, I think it is possible that the "privacy" of your speech, while not inherent in the First Amendment in and of itself, may well be protected under the Fourth Amendment which essentially prevents unlawful prying into personal (private) properties and effects without good legal cause. Written documents, for example, are clearly personal effects which are also a form of speech; their content would have every expectation of remaining private until intentional dissemination of that content to another party. The same would apply to other 1st Amdenment matters such as religious affiliation - freedom to hold certain beliefs and opinions and express them (i.e. the content itself, not specifically the source of the content) without fear of government repression is essentially all that's being covered. (I believe that the confidentiality of the source of the content is actually being protected under the 4th Amendment.) As far as how this applies to compaign election funding disclosures, I can only think of the (admittedly poor) metaphor that while having any kind of consensual sexual activity you want is perfectly legal in your own home, if you're going to try "doing it" in a shared public space like the neighborhood park then different rules governing the privacy expectations of your behavior are definitely going to apply. ;)

That said, if you feel deeply enough about an issue to articulate your opinion on the matter then you should be proud enough to "own it" so to speak, Even voting was not much of a private affair early on in United States history - in many cases vote counts were done in large public forums. 

Yes, they did use pseudonyms.

Yes, they did use pseudonyms. Specifically when debating matters in the Federalist Papers, I believe - Hamilton and Madison were having their own battle for the hearts and minds of the public and had quite an ideological slogging match going on with the likes of Patrick Henry.

That's why I'd be wont to say that anonmynity cannot be cleverly protected by the person who wants to remain anonymous (though they would not be protected from the more clever person who figures out who they are and chooses to reveal that publicly - as disseminating true information is generally always a constitutionally protected form of free speech as well.) However, I think that there is a line between not being able to force private individuals to reveal information and corporations, which, by law, are required to disclose plenty of information to public and governing bodies for the right of their continued operation and use of the public sphere. (There is certain information which they are legally required to disclose because of their obligations to stockholders, for example.) In their contract with the public these entities are held to a higher standard.

Yes Cap, and that practice is

Yes Cap, and that practice is still tenable in "speech" but does not translate well to the money part of the toxic equation.  Where such use of a pseudonyms is practiced, it is akin to the whistleblower's reason to fear being punished for speaking.  It is not the same when it is being used to drown out the speech of others or where people other than Americans are investing in our elections.

Pseudonyms tend to be about the lack of real "freedom of speech" rather than part of its orders.  Still, an idea has something of its own while a pile of cash is like any other pile of cash.  We can deal with an idea that lacks a known source far better than we can with pure cash piles of unknown origin.

The big problem is that money is not speech and this dogma is pure crap.