October 25, 2003
Texans for True Mobility and anonymity
This is hard for me to comprehend.
[Ed Wulfe, the Houston developer who heads Citizens for Public Transportation, the pro-rail political action committee] said Texans for True Mobility's refusal to reveal its backers demonstrated the organization's "contempt for voters." Wulfe further said the organization is running ads based on the "misleading information conjured up by Mr. Culberson" and should pull them off the air.
[Chris Begala, spokesman for Texans for True Mobility] said the campaign had no plans to do so and called Wulfe's demands "absolutely ludicrous."
The backers of Texans for True Mobility did not wish to reveal themselves to the public, Begala said, because "they are scared of (retaliation from) very powerful entities affecting their ability to live and work in this community."
There's a lot of anonymous bloggers out there, and I respect their reasons for doing so. Hell, there are times when I wish I'd chosen to use a nom de blog. I started writing this post as a snarky attack on the TTM supporters who refuse to make themselves known, but I can't quite do it without attacking the principle of anonymity in political discourse, and that's not a step I'm prepared to take.
That said, I have a hard time taking the TTM members' stated reason for wanting anonymity seriously. We're not talking about lowly proles who are worried about being fired or evicted for being troublemakers. We're talking about people who have the wherewithal to make contributions, very likely large contributions, to a political action committee. People like this have money, power, and connections. They are, in short, very powerful entities themselves, and they would very much be not without recourse if there were retaliation against them for their contributions. What are they really afraid of? If it's the idea of being associated with this anti-transit group, then maybe they should think about why it engenders such shame in them.
There's another point to consider here, which is that we just have Chris Begala's word for it that it really is individuals who are balking at having their names released and not corporations. I'll say it again: the notion that there's a First Amendment right for corporations to make anonymous campaign contributions is ludicrous on its face.
Finally, as Rick Casey notes, the pro-rail side has no such compunctions about being publicly known, and as I noted before, the fact that TTM is exploiting a legal loophole to be anonymous seriously undercuts any moral force they may have to their choice. If these guys want to be players, they ought to have the guts to appear in the scorecard.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 25, 2003 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Typically what anonimity masks is the thinness of support and the heaviness of the few major contributors. Chuck Watson was widely known to have put a big chunk of money on the anti-basketball arena (the first time around) and it wasn't until much later that it was learned to be in the neighborhood of $300-500,000. This, of course, came out only after Gary Polland transferred his funds from the county party to a campaign fund.
In essence, though, we know who contributes to the other side of this ... the developers who are on the losing side of rail expansion. Well, them and Barry Klein.
This is another argument that Houstonians have no trouble with reading between the lines. It doesn't matter if a single dollar was spent for or against the proposed rail campaign, it was doomed for failure the minute it was proposed.
It's very simple; people vote with their pocketbooks. Most have already made up their minds about the issue. It doesn't take a lot of research for 95%+ of our local population to realize how light rail will do nothing to benefit them. The fact is, most people do not work downtown. Most people do not work along proposed rail corridors.
Houston's economy is partially driven by development. Fear of slack development is a legitimate threat threat that affects everyone. The City of Houston has recently raised building permit and plan review costs. Furthermore, they have outsourced plan review to further expedite the process. This is pure profit in the City's pocket. Call it a tax, or call it a fee, it's all coming from the same folks and going into the same pool.
We've seen what happens when a developer stops dead in his tracks. In Fort Worth, Ed Bass has constructed many philanthropic buildings without public donations, tax incentives, etc. However, the current mayor has stepped over the line twice. Most recently, due to flawed boundry surveys, Bass' project encroached the building set-back line by just under 1 foot. He wrote a check to the City for the fair market value, and included a waiver as part of the contract mandating that the land remain part of the City's utility easement. The mayor was outraged and indicated that would never happen again on his watch.
Well, long story short, Ed Bass has not constructed a building in Fort Worth for over two years. None are in the preconstruction phases, either. This has cost the City coffers millions. Furthermore, it has trickled down to real estate agents, architects, engineers, general and subcontractors, not to mention, the final occupants.
Ed Bass will build again, just not under this currrent mayor. Now, do you think this mayor will be re-elected? Do you think Houston developers took notice? It's almost better to not get caught up in the hype, which is similar to what has happened here.
Rich or poor, liberal or conservative, most people just want a simpler way to drive their automobiles to work. That IS how the vote will be cast. Mark my words.....and when the rail proponents lose, you watch, they want blame fellow liberals who didn't support the issue...they'll blame the left. In reality, they should look no further than their own party.
Las Vegas odds makers wouldn't touch this vote with a 100' train.
The excuse is likely just laying the groundwork for the litigation. This excuse is the only one approved by the Supreme Court allowing groups to keep their membership secret. I believe the secrecy was approved by the Supreme Court to protect civil rights advocacy groups in the South. Now, any group that wants to keep its membership secret, while still participating in public discourse, claims they will suffer harm if people know their names.
I'll say it again: the notion that there's a First Amendment right for corporations to make anonymous campaign contributions is ludicrous on its face.
Just curious as to your thinking here, Kuff. Do you believe that individuals have a right to anonymous contributions, but that right should not extend to corporations? Or do you believe that no one should have the right to an anonymous donation?
Let's take Doug's question one step further.
Since most corporations are owned in entireity by a single individual seeking limited liability protection, should non-publicly traded corporations also have to reveal the identities of those who own them? Would that, too, be ludicrous?