Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Don’t call us on spending; we’ll call you

Jerry Stratton, May 30, 2009

As a long-ago member of the ACLU, a long-time member of the NRA, and a regular contributor to anti-prohibition organizations, I get mail from political advocacy organizations across the spectrum. Most of them go in the trash. The Sunlight Foundation is one of those things I’ve felt a little guilty about tossing, but there’s always been something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that made me leery of them.

Now I can put my finger on it.

The White House has decided to “expand the restriction on oral communications to cover all persons, not just federally registered lobbyists. For the first time, we will reach contacts not only by registered lobbyists but also by unregistered ones, as well as anyone else exerting influence on the process”. Sounds like they’ve been getting an earful from the public about the monstrous spending bill. This change sounds like it applies to journalists, voters, and anyone else with an opinion. Ask a question criticizing some aspect of the spending bill during a White House press conference, and it sure seems to me you’ll run afoul of this change.

So, banning “anyone” from talking to administration officials about how it’s spending money? Sound like something that an organization promoting “greater political transparency and to foster more openness and accountability in government” would oppose? Not the Sunlight Foundation. They see this new policy as promoting “merit-based decision making”:

It may seem radical to ban all oral communications between administration officials and the public, but this seemingly radical move is tempered by two points: first, the restriction applies to a narrowly defined situation where the administration has deemed merit-based decision making to be most sensitive; and second, the administration connects stimulus spending, in its gravity and sheer size, to the scope of potential corruption:

Why, yes, it may seem radical to ban the public from making their views known to government officials, but it will be okay because we can trust the President not to ban free speech except in the “narrowly defined situation” that the administration says it is so. For example, the biggest piece of legislation and spending in years, that everyone seems to have something to say about.

As long as the administration doesn’t talk about its spending with the public, they’ll be able to focus solely on the merits of where to spend. No need for any dangerous democracy; this spending stuff is too important to entrust to public discussion. And there’s especially no need to discuss the merits of whether to spend.

Yes, it’s difficult to define the difference between lobbying and free speech. This is probably because lobbying is free speech, at least when done by someone we agree with. Regardless, the solution is not to just give up and ban free speech.

Obligatory WIBDI: Can you imagine the Sunlight Foundation writing the same thing if, for example, it was about a wartime spending bill under a Republican president?

  1. <- Principle vs. Contradiction
  2. Anti-health bill ->