Let Us Now Praise the Head of RenTech's Political Engagement
The co-head of Renaissance Technologies is the donor who has been paying $300,000 for ads critical of Congressman Peter DeFazio, the Democrat from Oregon.
The Oregonian newspaper broke the news that Robert Mercer, co-head at Ren Tech, has been the supporter behind the group called Concerned Taxpayers of America that is behind the ads. The ads accuse DeFazio of aligning with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in policies that are wrecking the economy.
The ads had attracted the attention of reporters and political commentators who found the mystery irresistible and, in many cases, outrageous. MSNBCs Rachel Maddow, for instance, thinks political ads funded by private citizens should treated as in-kind donations to politicians, which would subject private political speech to the spending and disclosure rules that apply to candidates. (Watch Maddow attack DeFazios opponent in a clip published on Business Insider.)
Of course, the Supreme Court disagrees with this point of view on the quite reasonable grounds that the Constitution protects political speech from government restrictions.
As a side note, we'llpoint out there's a deep hypocrisy at work when members of the media agitate for restrictions on political speech that they would never tolerate if applied to newspapers, radio or television. Rachel Maddow gets to talk politics for an hour each evening, and no one counts that as a restricted in-kind donation in favor of candidates who might benefit from her influence.
The temporary anonymity of the donations outraged the Oregonian. These types of donations dont have to be disclosed until 16 days before the election.
"They're permitted to do so under cover of anonymity, right up until 16 days before the election. That lack of timely disclosure is a problem that cries for an immediate fix. Voters have a right to know just who it is that is telling them to dump their congressman, the Oregonians editorial page complained."
Ironically, the Oregonian made the plea for transparency in an unsigned editorial. So voters have the right to know just who is telling them about politics except when it happens to be the people writing editorials for a newspaper.
We have a long and rich history of anonymous political speech. Does anyone recall the Federalist Papers? Anonymity is protected for good reason: it protects the speakers from being subject to backlash for holding their views and can allow unpopular people to have their argument judged on their merits rather than their source. Remember: we still allow people to vote in private. Why is spending on politics different? If anything, current disclosure rules probably go too far in cutting into our right to be anonymous.
If anything, we'd probably be better off if more guys like Mercer were occasionally able to rouse themselves from their market-cracking computer codes to become involved with the fate of the commonwealth. Politics is too important to be left to politicians and the media.
Companies mentioned in this post
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