When a corporation or wealthy individual donates vast sums to promote a political cause or candidate, the Supreme Court has held, it is not a form of corruption. It is free speech — and therefore cannot be limited. Citizens United and related rulings would, perhaps, not have had such a pernicious influence on our country's politics had it not been for the "dark money" loophole in the tax code. "Social welfare" or 501(c)(4) groups, which supposedly devote most of their efforts to charitable good works, are legally allowed to conceal their donors. Hundreds of millions of dollars now flow through groups on both the left and right with such anodyne names as "Freedom Partners" and "Patriot Majority." The acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, was paid $1.2 million by one such "charity" to serve as a TV attack-dog partisan. Who paid Whitaker so generously, and how might those payments now influence his supervision of Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Sorry: That's none of your business.
Anonymous speech, we have learned in recent years, can be a corrosive force. On Facebook and Twitter and in internet chat rooms, nameless or disguised trolls have amplified Russian disinformation and convinced millions of baseless conspiracy theories. They've spread anti-Semitism, racism, and misogyny, and tried to intimidate opponents and journalists with death threats. This is cowardly speech, free of all consequence. Defenders of anonymity argue that corporations and rich people might be subjected to protests, boycotts, and other repercussions if their attempts to buy influence became public. So? In the real world, we all face consequences for exercising our right to speak freely. If you publicly embarrass your employer, you can be fired; if you libel innocent people, you can be sued; if you traffic in hatred, you can be shunned. If we are to have an attorney general beholden to a benefactor, we should at least know who bought and paid for him.