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Castro Weaponizes Campaign Finance Disclosure Against Ordinary Texans

August 6, 2019

August 6, 2019
By Matt Miller

Why is U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro, twin brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, painting targets on his city’s own citizens with a recent tweet? In it, he names 44 San Antonio residents who donated the maximum amount to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. Above their names, he writes “Sad to see so many San Antonians as 2019 maximum donors to Donald Trump … Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders.’”

What is the purpose of publicizing this information? Why call out these 44 individuals and accuse them of supporting a “campaign of hate”? Does Rep. Castro think he’s going to get them to vote for his brother, or that it would make any difference if they did? Of course not. Instead, he means to intimidate these individuals and to intimidate anyone else who might be thinking about supporting President Trump.

I can guarantee you that Rep. Castro does not know the content of these people’s hearts, or whether they harbor any hatred toward Hispanic immigrants. He does not know why any of them chose to support the Trump campaign. He does not know if they are kind and generous. He does not know whether they are good spouses, children, siblings or friends. He does not know anything about them. Yet—out of cold political calculus—he chooses to tell the world that they supported the Trump campaign because they wanted to “fuel a campaign of hate.”

Now, I actually do know one of the people that Rep. Castro named in his tweet. I’m not going to name him here because I see no reason to perpetuate Rep. Castro’s dangerous game. But although I haven’t talked to this individual for several years, I know him to be an extremely considerate, kind soul. A decade ago, this individual and I walked the halls of the Texas Capitol together to push for eminent domain reforms to strengthen private property rights in the Lone Star State. He is as decent and soft-spoken an individual as you will find anywhere in Texas. Imagine my horror to see Rep. Castro link him to hatred and violence, all because he chose to support Trump’s reelection.

Rep. Castro’s tweet is dangerous and ill-conceived—and it was only made possible because campaign finance laws require the disclosure of the personal information of anyone who donates more than $200 to a presidential campaign. Public databases make this information easily searchable, which is why Rep. Castro had such an easy time putting together his little list. (And let’s not kid ourselves: The list is tiny. Even though Rep. Castro complains that “so many” San Antonians gave maximum support to Trump, 44 people is 0.003 percent of San Antonio’s population.)

These kinds of disclosure laws have been common in the candidate context for a long time. Now, groups are pushing for disclosure requirements in the context of ballot measures and other legislation, too. The ultimate goal appears to be public naming of anyone who ever supported a candidate or cause. Did you give money to a nonprofit that supported or opposed a measure? Your name could wind up on a government list, just like the 44 people that Rep. Castro identified in his tweet. Donate money to support abortion rights? Your employer will know about it. Donate money to support the Second Amendment? Your neighbor will know that, too.

Supporters of disclosure claim that the information will help voters make better decisions about candidates and ballot measures. Opponents point out that—in the age of social media—putting people’s names, addresses, and employers on a government list is dangerous because it exposes them to potential ideological harassment and intimidation.

Rep. Castro has proven disclosure skeptics right. His tweet does not serve any kind of benign “informational” purpose. It is designed to intimidate and stir the pot. Does it matter that the people he named could suffer harmful consequences because of what he wrote? Apparently not. The tweet remains up at the time of this writing.

Matt Miller is a Senior Attorney at the Goldwater Institute. He is currently litigating two donor privacy cases, in New Mexico and Colorado, and he is the author of a Goldwater Institute report on the landmark donor privacy case NAACP v. Alabama.



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