Monday, November 22, 2010

NY Times on Problem of Hidden Donors in Democratic Society and the Case of the Minnesota Catholic Bishops

The outcome of the gubernatorial election in Minnesota remains undecided, with the lead for Democratic candidate Mark Dayton so slim in the final vote tally that there will be a recount.  This is the election in which the Catholic bishops of the state crossed the church-state line to lobby on behalf of the Republican candidate for governor Tom Emmer with a gay-bashing video about same-sex marriage.

A video funded by an unnamed donor or donors whose name(s) the bishops will not disclose.  Today, a New York Times editorial reminds us yet again of why this kind of unsavory political activity in which undisclosed donors use front groups, even churches with their exemption from transparency in fiscal reporting, to gain control of the political process in a democratic society is so reprehensible.  The editorial notes that secret donations inevitably come with a price tag, and that price is typically steep: those who use front groups like the Catholic church in Minnesota to influence the outcome of elections expect a return on their investment, when they win.  They expect to be able to manipulate the political sphere (and those who have opened the door to such manipulation by serving as a willing front for these hidden donors) after their money has bought an election.

And when we don't know who these hidden donors are or what their motives in donating money might be, we are relatively defenseless against what they're doing to our democracy:

And that’s the problem with secret political donations, which played such a large role in the elections earlier this month. They cast a shadow of doubt and distrust over a huge field, raising questions about who is covertly pushing which bill and supporting which candidate, and for which self-serving purposes. Lobbying and political contributions can be perfectly legitimate practices, but only when the public can see who is pulling the strings. 

As the Times editorial notes, in 2009, the Chamber of Commerce gave $86.2 million, 40% of its budget in that year, to defeat health care reform.  This year, it raised $33 million for the midterm elections, almost all of that from undisclosed donors.  Because we don't know who those donors are, we have no idea precisely what they want for their money, though the motive of subverting health care reform is obvious.
This is, as the Times concludes, a rotten way to do business in a democracy.  It's a rotten and amoral way of pursuing political goals that Catholic bishops have no business not only supporting, but actually fostering.  

Now that the elections are over and done with, and now that their candidate has, it appears, lost, will the Minnesota bishops have the grace and dignity to disclose the identity of the donor(s) who funded their overtly political gay-bashing video campaign?  I doubt it.  The election of Timothy Dolan as head of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' conference signals just the opposite, since, as James Carroll notes, that election underscores the willing transformation of the U.S. bishops into "a mascot-lobby for the Republican right."

And making political traction by making the lives of gay and lesbian children of God miserable in the name of Christ remains a central part of the political strategy of the Republican party (and here).  Because, they think, it works.  And with the example just given us by the Catholic bishops of Minnesota, and under the leadership of Timothy Dolan, it doesn't appear that the American Catholic bishops are going to disabuse the Republican party anytime soon of their belief that in targeting gay and lesbian human beings to make political gain, they're engaged in holy behavior.  In the name of Christ. 

No comments: