Opinion: Columnists

Choosing between more government or more transparency

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Mark Tapscott,Columnists,Campaign 2012

Lori Anderson doesn't know it, but she recently provided yet another demonstration of why I've been sounding this warning for years: You can have a big government or you can have a transparent government, but you can't have a transparent big government. Sooner or later, you have to make a choice.

What I've heretofore diplomatically left unstated is my expectation that many on the Left will make the wrong choice because of their devotion to giving government more power to regulate our daily lives.

Anderson is the spokesman for Washington state's Public Disclosure Commission, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance laws and regulations.

Earlier this week, according to an Associated Press report, Anderson told the Catholic Church that it cannot collect donations during services to support a campaign in Washington state to preserve traditional marriage of men and women. As it is for every other denomination of the Christian faith, traditional marriage is a matter of sacred doctrine for Catholics.

Voters must decide in November whether to approve a law passed by the Washington legislature and signed by the governor to guarantee same-sex couples the right to civil marriage. Referendum 74 has thus become a point of heated contention in the state.

Catholic leaders in the state were asked by their bishop to set a date for collection of contributions from parishioners to Preserve Marriage Washington, the citizens group that opposes gay marriage and put the issue to the referendum.

But that's a no-no, according to Anderson, because "under state law, no one can be an intermediary for a contribution. It doesn't matter if it's a loose pile of money or each is in a little envelope."

So, by Anderson's lights, the Public Disclosure Commission can tell leaders of the Catholic Church in Washington state that they cannot -- as part of their church services -- encourage parishioners to show their faith by supporting a sacred institution by way of a financial contribution to a like-minded civic advocacy group and then forwarding the resulting funds to that group.

If the secular authorities can tell church leaders they can't say one thing during their services, how long before they start telling them other things they are barred from saying?

Once the camel's nose is under the tent, the rest soon follows, humps and all. Think of it: If church officials cannot encourage their members to support a certain cause with their money, why allow them to continue teaching the scriptural doctrine that gave rise to the cause in the first place?

The First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition bar infringement by the federal or any state or local government. But Washington state's campaign finance law subordinates the exercise of at least two of those freedoms to the dictates of campaign finance regulation, as do many federal laws on the same issue.

Conservatives argue that government transparency and accountability are best served when candidates -- incumbents and challengers -- must disclose all of their contributors and how much they gave. Voters can then decide for themselves whether those seeking their votes have been bought by special interests.

Liberals go far beyond disclosure to include a multitude of details of when and how contributions can be made and by whom, which becomes the occasion for government to issue hundreds of regulations. Bureaucrats thus gain control of a process they aren't supposed to be regulating.

Put another way, bureaucratic regulation supercedes the individual's exercise of constitutional freedoms. Like I said: big government or transparent government. You can't have both.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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