Unintended Consequences – Campaign Finance Disclosure

The Open Oakland Brigade, in cooperation with the City of Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission have created an excellent web facility, Open Disclosure Oakland which allows anyone to see campaign contributions (right now, just for the Oakland Mayor’s race).

The motivation for such a facility is clear – unless you are really acquainted with a candidate, finding out who his/her supporters are gives strong hints and insights into the candidate’s likely positions in issues you value, since you will recognize the interests of the ‘well known’ supporters. A candidate receiving support from a Vegan advocacy group will most likely have a different view than one reciving support from a livestock cooperative.

BUT, you can invert this relationship. You may already know a candidate’s postion on an issue, and by looking through the list of contributers, infer that the views of these contributers align with the candiate’s. Now, suppose that you are an EMPLOYER, and have strong views on some policy issue. Checkout the contribution list to see if any of your employees have supported candidates in line with, or opposed to your position! If you, as an employer, even do this search you most likley will let the results influence your employer-employee relaionship.

So, given this critical privacy issue, how can one protect one’s private participation in government beyond the secret ballot? Corporations have many ways to hide or obfuscate their activities; what is available to citizens? If I cannot donate money anonymously, can I create an alias? Do I need to create a super PAC just to get privacy? After all, it used to require dedication to comb through records to see what your employees, or your neighbors, were doing. It is all available now with the flick of a mouseclick.