Free Speech Needs Jerry Maguire
By Ryan Sager Published 03/18/2005 -

Reprinted by 3/19/2005 by permission of:
Tech Central Station
IMHO - Ryan Sager does the 4th Estate and investigative reporting proud.  

Remember Jerry Maguire? Since it's never too early for some mid-'90s nostalgia, I'll remind you of four little words: Show me the money! Keep those four words on the tips of your tongues, because they may just save blogs from Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold.

Here's how.

Everyone knows by now that the campaign-finance lobby has got online political speech in its crosshairs. Commissioner Brad Smith of the Federal Election Commission performed the public service of alerting the public to that fact earlier this month -- specifically, he alerted us to the fact that the FEC has been forced by a court decision to write rules for what online speech does and does not fall under the restrictions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

Since Smith made his comments, the "cleanies" have issued backtrack after backtrack and denial after denial, all of which, in the end, have boiled down to this: "Well, yes, but don't worry…You can trust us."

Well, no, we can't.

So here's how concerned citizens should respond: Show us the money!

The cleanies want to crack down on 527s? Show us the money! They want to replace the FEC with a new regulatory body wielding even greater power? Show us the money! They want to start down a slippery slope that will end with links to campaign Web sites counting as donations to campaigns? Show…us…the…money.

As I've shown in two recent columns -- one on TCS and the other in The New York Post -- the last thing on earth the cleanies want to do is show us the money: where it comes from, how much of it comes and the motives behind it coming.

That's because campaign-finance reform is not a "movement" as its proponents have claimed, it is a lobby -- funded and orchestrated by eight very liberal foundations which fooled Congress and the American people into believing that the front groups they set up were grassroots organizations.

But I've only told half of the story. In fact, I am only able to tell half of the story, because the other half will require the collective intelligence of the blogosphere.

And that's where "Show Us the Money" comes in.

A huge chunk of money ($123 million) that finances the campaign-finance-reform lobby comes from left-wing foundations -- I've shown that in my articles, relying largely on an informative report put out recently by Political Money Line. But a bunch more money comes from corporations and wealthy individuals, and that money wasn't captured in the Political Money Line report -- because the groups that lobby for campaign-finance reform by and large don't disclose where they get their money.

You read that right: The disclosure crowd is made up of hypocrites who won't disclose where their own money comes from.

Now, as non-profits, they're not required to do this. But if they're going to work to repeal the First Amendment on the premise that money dictates motives, well, they better show us theirs.

For example, who are the donors to the Reform Institute, and what did they want (and/or get) for their money? The Reform Institute, you might remember, is the bogus think tank that serves as a shadow McCain 2008 office. It's supposedly a not-for-profit "education organization," but mostly it just educates the public about how totally awesome John McCain is. What's more, at least three high-ranking McCain 2000 staffers are cooling their heels there until McCain 2008.

Richard Davis, the McCain 2000 campaign manager, takes home a $110,000 a year "consulting fee" as the fake-tank's president. Trevor Potter, general counsel to McCain 2000, is -- fittingly enough -- general counsel to the Reform Institute. And Carla Eudy, national finance director of McCain 2000, is -- you may have guessed it -- the Institute's director of finance.

An Associated Press investigation earlier this month already found that Cablevision gave the Institute $100,000 right after its CEO, Charles Dolan, testified before McCain's Commerce Committee in 2003. Another $100,000 check from Cablevision came into the Institute in August of 2004, 12 days before McCain wrote to Dolan about a pending pricing issue, urging him to "feel free to contact me and discuss these issues further."

What other companies made donations to his think tank -- donations, by the way, that would be illegal many times over under McCain-Feingold because of their size if made to a political party or campaign?

Most importantly, when will the cleanies come clean? Show us the money!

This week, I tried to get three major campaign-finance groups to release lists of their donors.

Democracy 21 told me: "Democracy 21 complies with the rules that apply to all nonprofit groups. In addition, although not required by law and not done by most nonprofit groups, we have disclosed the foundation grants we have received." In other words, they're not going to release the names of the companies and individuals who have donated.

Common Cause released a list of donors over $25,000 -- though only for the last four years. They refused to release the names of donors below that threshold.

The Brennan Center for Justice didn't get back to me after repeated phone calls.

That leaves: the Alliance for Better Campaigns, the Campaign Finance Institute, the Campaign for America, the Campaign Legal Center, the Campaign Reform Project, the Center for Governmental Studies, the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Responsive Politics, the Committee for Economic Development, the National Voting Rights Institute and Public Campaign.

Not one of these groups discloses all of its donors over $200 -- as is required by law for pretty much any other political contribution.

Again, they don't have to. These groups are supposedly non-partisan, and they supposedly don't lobby for or against specific legislation. But recent revelations have made it clear that the more we know about the money, the more we'll know about the motives. And the more we know about the motives, the more that can be done to fight further restrictions on political speech.

So, remember, when you hear about any new proposed restriction on political speech: Show us the money!

Ryan Sager is a member of the editorial board of The New York Post. He also edits the blog Miscellaneous Objections and can be reached at

If you are a producer or reporter who is interested in receiving more information about this article or the author, please email your request to