Robert Knight

Warning: Taking corporate donations may be hazardous to your constitutional freedom of speech.

A case in point is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington-based umbrella group of state legislators from around the nation who work together mostly on conservative economic proposals. Why reinvent the wheel in West Virginia if something works well in Iowa?

Last year, ALEC was accused by former White House aide Van Jones, a professed Marxist, of being “racist” because the group backed state laws requiring voters to show a photo ID. Quicker than you can say “duck for cover,” ALEC pulled model voter-ID legislative language from its website. Despite the surrender, the group still lost major corporate sponsors including Coca-Cola, Mars and Kraft Foods.

Bear in mind that ALEC’s language is similar to that of Indiana’s voter-ID law, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2008. That law’s leftwing challengers presented no credible victims, and, more important, minority participation actually increased after the law took effect, as it did in Georgia.

When you give in to a bully, it’s an invitation to more abuse. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is currently using outrage over Trayvon Martin’s death as a club against companies and nonprofits that have donated to ALEC. The senator wrote a letter to them on Aug. 6, “seeking clarification” as to whether they currently fund ALEC and if they support ALEC’s model “Stand Your Ground” legislation. The bill basically says that people have a right to self defense. Leftists are relentlessly conflating such laws with the circumstances of Trayvon’s tragic death.

Never mind that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was not even a factor in the state’s unsuccessful prosecution of George Zimmerman. The Left and their media allies are employing the Saul Alinsky strategy to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize, and polarize it” because it works so well.

It also doesn’t matter whether the corporations care a whit about “Stand Your Ground” laws. Just being accused is enough to send them into the tall grass.

This is the reason Democrats have been pushing “transparency” laws that would expose major political donors to media crucifixion until they stop funding conservatives. ALEC responded to Durbin’s bullying in a letter, calling his tactics “eerily similar” to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Parties and other conservative groups. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Sen. Durbin and other Democrat lawmakers had written letters in 2010 explicitly asking the IRS to do so.

Sen. Durbin is particularly good at painting awful pictures of people. In June 2005, on the Senate floor, he compared American troops’ treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to horrors committed by the worst mass-murdering regimes of the last 100 years:

"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control," he said, citing an FBI report, "you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no concern for human beings."

When confronted angrily by senators of both parties, he stuck to his guns at first, and then apologized, sort of. You be the judge:

"Sadly, we have a situation here where some in the right-wing media say I've been insulting men and women in uniform," he said. "Nothing could be farther from the truth."

He then conceded that Guantanamo was not in the same league as the Nazis and communists, but that “it was no exaggeration” to say that the interrogation techniques were unbecoming for the United States. On that point, he would get a lot of agreement, except, perhaps, from families of 9/11 victims.

For those attending schools that teach that history began with Barack Obama’s election, when the seas stopped rising and the planet began healing, here’s some perspective.

During the 20th Century, the Nazis killed six million Jews and another few million Christians and others and laid waste to much of Europe. They conducted hideous medical experiments that defy decent description.

Another 20 million died under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin in the communist Soviet Union, including millions of Ukrainians who were deliberately starved to death. Cambodian dictator Pol Pot executed more than two million of his countrymen in that small, Southeast Asian nation that became collateral damage when America pulled out of Vietnam. Some people died in Cambodia’s killing fields just for the crime of wearing eyeglasses. The authorities thought they might be too well-read to be good communists.

So, all that said, if you’re running a business and a guy like Sen. Durbin turns his inquiring mind to what you’ve funded lately, you can scarcely be blamed for imagining the most lurid headlines associated with your business. It’s a credible threat.

The folks funding ALEC should take heart and stand their ground, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has strongly encouraged. A recent Washington Times editorial echoed Mr. Cruz, saying, “Foundations, corporations and plain citizens have the right to support political causes of their choice without fear of reprisal from the government, or even from a U.S. senator.”

More and more Americans are getting tired of being called names merely for not going along with the latest liberal schemes to divide us. They’re looking for someone to stand up to the bullies.


Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.