Money and politics. They go together like cheese and crackers, chips and salsa, coffee and donuts, pencil and paper, peanut butter and jelly (or bananas if you’re Elvis), milk and cookies, and dogs and ponies. More so, in fact. Money in politics is speech. It is advocacy. It is the “vocalized” support for an idea. And, it should be as protected as actual uttered words (or those put in print) are by the Bill of Rights.

It’s not, and not in the “harm to others” form of limit on speech. Campaign finance laws and restrictions are a complex and tangled knot, with presumptive prohibitions on quantity and beneficiary, and all sorts of disclosure mandates. Still, there are some protections in place, affirmed by the Court most recently in Citizens United v FEC (a ruling some of our friends on the Left abhor with every fiber of their misguided souls).

Some, but not enough, in my opinion at least. Last year, the Court let stand a rule requiring disclosure of donor lists by politically active nonprofits. The libertarian’s concern in such matters lies in the discouraging effect the knowledge that one’s donation to a favored cause that may not be popular might have on donations, thus infringing on one’s free speech rights. I understand the counterpoint – that, absent such requirements, it’s much harder to maintain transparency, accountability, and public trust in the government. Rent-seeking and outright bribery are very un-libertarian, and sunshine can be the best preventative or remedy to such behaviors.

Times change, and times are changed by advancing technology. Consider the explosive growth in the availability of information in the past couple decades, thanks to the Internet. And, consider one political tactic that has become far more common and popular as a result of this explosive growth: doxxing. The term derives from “dox,” an abbreviation of “documents,” and refers to the act of making public personal/identifying information that an individual has kept private. This can include a home address, a real name that’s been hidden by a pseudonym or handle, a telephone number, facts about income, assets, and/or liabilities, embarrassing bits dredged out of history, or details about donations or other political activities. The purpose of doxxing is often to intimidate, both the individual being doxxed and others who might be of a like mind or follow in his footsteps.

As I mentioned before, there are limits on free speech, and both intimidation and incitement are illegal. Doxxing is as well, under certain circumstances and intents. One question is – is it illegal enough? Another is – should we revisit disclosure rules in this era of weaponized doxxing? As it is now, the criminality in sharing another’s private information is rooted in intent, which can be hard to prove.

Doxxing in and of itself might not be as big a concern were it not for the corollary behavior: the mob-intimidation tactics that have forced CEO and university president resignations, the shut-down of a Twitter account of an 8 year old girl parodying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, efforts to embarrass politicians and deter others by making political activity appear riskier, and so forth.

These stand apart from criminal doxxing, such as one Congressional staffer’s attempts to dox some politicians to impact their position on the Justice Kavanaugh confirmation. That such are already against the law is a good thing, but the slavering mob’s encouragement of such illegal tactics is very troubling.

They also stand apart from doxxing in the non-political world, because the latter are often about the doxxer simply being an asshole, as in “see how awesome I am in embarrassing Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga?”

Doxxing, when used as a political tactic, threatens the functioning of the nation by altering behaviors: of elected officials, of bureaucrats, and especially of voters. It’s a difficult matter, because it calls upon the drawing of a line – the point at which one’s liberty infringes upon another’s – in a very nebulous medium.

When we witness doxxing of a currently-legal sort that intimidates others into silence, we should consider that we don’t have the line drawn in the right place. One place we might look is at money in politics. If you want to donate some money to a candidate, but worry that your neighbors or your boss might have a different point of view and might think differently of you (or might change their minds about your career prospects) if they were to find out, doesn’t that count as a form of intimidation? Suppose a nosy neighbor scours donor lists (easy to do with the Internet) and decides to tell the world to whom you gave money. Would fear of that happening alter your behavior?

Does the increased prevalence of doxxing, and the increased acceptance of mob-mentality retribution for exercising an act of protected speech, warrant tightening privacy and anonymity protections for political contributions?

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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