Why Create an 'Enemies List' When There Are Already Campaign Finance Laws?

Last week, the debate about health care reform was transformed into one about free speech -- specifically, whether the Obama administration is trying to chill the speech of its critics by creating an “enemies list.”

The ruckus started when the White House called on its supporters to help it combat what it calls “disinformation” about its health care agenda that is being propagated through emails, websites, and “casual conversation.” Specifically, it asked: “If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to [email protected].”

Of course, the emails forwarded to the White House will usually include the authors’ and recipients’ names, email addresses and other personal information. Following a barrage of criticism that this information could be used to monitor -- and thus suppress -- the speech of those who oppose administration policies, the White House tried to reassure the public that the president is not ushering in the era of Big Brother.

The White House is right. The era of Big Brother is already here.

Politicians ushered it in long ago with the enactment of federal and state campaign finance laws that require “disclosure” when you spend money to try to influence the outcome of an election. If you want to give money to candidates, ballot issue groups, or advocacy groups, or to spend your money on things like web pages, fliers, and newspaper ads, the government will require you to “name names.” That is, you (or the organization you support) will have to report not only what you spend and what cause or candidate you’re supporting or opposing, but also who you are, where you live, and even where you work. The government will then compile a database of that information and put it on the Internet for all to see.