Boycott Threats Lead to Resignation of Theater Artistic Director Who Contributed to Anti-Same-Sex-Marriage Initiative:

The Sacramento Bee reports:

Scott Eckern, artistic director for the California Musical Theatre, resigned Wednesday as a growing number of artists threatened to boycott the organization because of his $1,000 donation to the campaign to ban gay marriage in California....

Los Angeles-based and Tony Award-winning composer Marc Shaiman ("Hairspray") wrote a blog saying he would never allow any of his shows to again be licensed or performed by California Musical Theatre while Eckern was employed there....

Speech calling for such boycotts is itself constitutionally protected. It neither is nor, in my view, should be illegal for people to refuse to patronize a theater because of the artistic director's political views. It likewise isn't illegal, and shouldn't be illegal for copyright owners to refuse to license their works for such reasons. I don't think there's a constitutional right to refuse to license the work under such circumstances, but I wouldn't support a ban on such refusals.

California law does bar employers from firing their employees for the employees' political activity, which would surely include contributions to political campaigns, and it doesn't seem to have an exception for situations where the employees' activity has caused boycotts or other losses to the employer. (See Cal. Labor Code §§ 1101-02, which has been read fairly broadly.) But it appears that Eckern resigned without being forced to do so by his employer.

Still, it seems to me that this story helps provide a counterpoint to the criticism of people and organizations who boycotted the Dixie Chicks for their statements. For more on the general topic of boycotts for speech, see my Deterring Speech: When Is It “McCarthyism”? When Is It Proper? (PDF pp. 11-30).

UPDATE: More thoughts on this from Adam B at DailyKos.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Proposition 8 Donor Maps,
  2. Campaign Contribution Disclosure and Technological Change:
  3. Disclosure of Contributors to Ballot Measures:
  4. Boycott Threats Lead to Resignation of Theater Artistic Director Who Contributed to Anti-Same-Sex-Marriage Initiative:

Disclosure of Contributors to Ballot Measures:

The Ninth Circuit has upheld California laws that mandate the disclosure of contributions to ballot measure campaigns (see here and here). But Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Brown v. Socialist Workers' 74 Campaign Committee (1982) held that "the First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling disclosures [of campaign contributions] by a minor political party that can show a 'reasonable probability' that the compelled disclosures will subject those identified to 'threats, harassment, or reprisals.'"

Presumptively, the same rule should apply as to compelled disclosures of contributions to ballot measure committees -- but does it apply even when the ballot measure may well win (as opposed to a "minor political party," which is nearly sure to lose)?

Relatedly, just how much of a showing of "harassment" and "reprisals" would opponents of same-sex-marriage have to show in order to justify such an exemption? I take it that the theater boycott incident I mention below wouldn't by itself suffice, nor would it if it's coupled with the hotel boycott we blogged about a few months ago. But, given Brown, how many such incidents -- or what types of incidents -- would be required? Does there have to be evidence of violence, police abuse, or firings by employers? Or would evidence of public boycotts of the contributor's business, or the contributor's employer, qualify?


Campaign Contribution Disclosure and Technological Change:

Paul Sherman of the Institute for Justice raises an interesting set of questions:

When discussing the Buckley and Brown holdings on disclosure, I think it's important to keep in mind that both decisions were written years before the Internet made campaign-finance data easily available to anyone with an idle curiosity in your political activity. In 1976 the average donor probably didn't have much to fear from having their contributions disclosed, because the cost of accessing that data was relatively high. But when that data can be accessed with just a few keystrokes, methods of retaliation that are already virtually impossible to detect or prove suddenly become very low cost. How can I demonstrate to a court, for example, that I was denied a job because I made a contribution to a disfavored candidate or ballot initiative? With employers routinely performing Google searches of job applicants, is it unreasonable to think this happens with some frequency?

I don't know the answers to these questions, or to the broader question of what should happen to campaign finance law in light of these questions. But I do think these are much worth considering.

For more from the Institute for Justice on this, see Disclosure Costs: Unintended Consequences of Campaign Finance Reform, and Campaign Finance Red Tape: Strangling Free Speech and Political Debate.


Proposition 8 Donor Maps,

for San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Orange County, are now posted at Proposition 8, of course, was the proposition that amended the California Constitution to bar legal recognition of same-sex marriage. The map is built -- presumably automatically -- from the data reported by the California Secretary of State's office. (The site I linked to contains the committee id's, but if you click on the committee name, you'll see the individual contributors.) Many of the listed contributions are $50 or below.

I suspect this sort of technology may well make people much more reluctant to donate money to (or against) controversial propositions -- and may lead people to rethink whether the government should indeed mandate disclosure of such contributions, especially small contributions. In any case, I thought I'd note this.

I recognize that mentioning the site may exacerbate the problem that I describe, but it's also necessary for readers to understand what's going on. And the site has of course already gotten a good deal of attention from other places.

Finally, I should note that I think the organizers of the site have the First Amendment right to put it up, and I would oppose any attempts to outlaw such speech, or to make it civilly actionable. (For more on why even more dangerous speech should generally remain protected from government restriction, see here.) But the question is to what extent the government should make the creation of such maps easy, by making available information about ballot measure donors, including small donors.