State Rep. Jeff Ellington wants to change the law so people who donate to political campaigns no longer need to reveal their addresses. This is a truly bad idea. Indiana should be collecting and disclosing more, not less, information about the people who finance elections.
Ellington, a Bloomington Republican, is all worked up about the idea that people could “target” individuals who have donated to certain candidates. He’s mimicking the right-wing outrage machine, which has spun into overdrive since Texas Congressman Juaquin Castro tweeted the names of 44 residents in his district who contributed the maximum allowed to President Donald Trump.
Ellington told the Bloomington Herald-Times that the tweet “will likely get someone hurt.”
News flash: Castro didn’t disclose the identity of the donors. The Federal Election Commission did, just as it has disclosed campaign finance information for decades. Anyone could look it up and share it.
Ellington said there is no reason for the government to post the addresses except to make it easier to harass the donors. In fact, there are very good reasons to disclose donors’ addresses.
To start, addresses are a way to identify individuals and distinguish them from other people with identical or similar names. If someone lists a donation from Curt Smith, how do we know if it’s the British pop singer or the head of the Indiana Family Institute? Ellington had 2018 campaign donations from people with common names like Smith, Wells, and Elkins. Which ones? The addresses will tell.
Addresses can also shed light on mysterious donors that play a significant role in elections. Here’s an example: In the fall of 2018, an entity called Education Innovation Research gave $34,000 to Indiana campaigns, all of it to Republican legislative candidates. It gave $300 to Ellington.
What is it? Its address appears to be in the same northside Indianapolis office park as the address of Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, online charter schools that have been accused of overbilling the state $40 million for students who didn’t enroll or earn credits. Judging by campaign finance reports, state business records and other information, Education Innovation Research seems to be part of a group of businesses associated with the schools’ founder. Together, they donated at least $85,000 to Republican candidates between 2016 and 2018. At the time, state officials were discussing new regulations for virtual schools.
It’s important to know these companies were donating to campaigns in an apparent attempt to influence legislation. Without addresses, we wouldn’t know that.
Then there’s the case of the American Federation for Children, the “school choice” advocacy group formerly headed by Betsy DeVos, now the U.S. secretary of education. It has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to Indiana politicians to promote school vouchers and charter schools. Much of its money comes from Walmart’s owners and New York hedge fund managers. For a time, it shared a Terre Haute address with James Bopp, a nationally connected conservative lawyer and a leading figure in the Citizens United case, which overthrew certain limits on campaign spending.
Without disclosure of addresses, we wouldn’t know that.
But maybe Ellington doesn’t want us to know. If that’s the case, his constituents should be asking why he wants to keep Hoosiers in the dark about their state government.