Every hour, a computer program, or “bot,” tweets out the name, job, and address of a donor to President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign.
The apparent goal is sunshine — a more sinister objective may be intimidation. In either case, the account is taking advantage of disclosure laws, and using them to name and shame people.
It’s not an unprecedented bot — or even an unprecedented tactic.
Twitter has a few other accounts that have done the same thing. One account listed every donor for the Democrats. But both “Every GOP Donor” and “Every Dem Donor” stopped tweeting on Nov. 8 — Election Day. Every Trump Donor keeps tweeting, every hour.
There is potentially plenty of material for political operatives to use. According to Brad Smith, a former Federal Election Commission member and a Capital University law professor, 49 states and the federal government require some disclosure of campaign contributions and spending.
Frequently, political opponents use other publicly available data to “dox” (or “doxx”) people they oppose or dislike. Dictionary.com defines doxxing as publish[ing] the private personal information of (anotherperson) or (to) reveal the identity of (an online poster) without the consent ofthat individual.” This information could be a middle name or an address — something that is public data.
Doxxing people on Twitter and elsewhere is not that uncommon. But the use of data to harass and shame politically involved persons — even lightly involved people — is a disturbing new trend.
And it could get worse. After Donald Trump shocked the world and won on Nov. 8, at least two employers publicly declared they would not tolerate Trump supporters. One company’s CEO, Mathew Blanchfield of 1st in SEO of New Mexico, said Trump’s Republican supporters are not welcome as clients.
One major skeptic of disclosure laws is Smith, the former member of the FEC.
Smith is known for opposing most campaign finance laws as violations of the First Amendment. But Smith is skeptical of disclosure laws, which are usually the “great compromise” that even Republicans readily agree to. Not everyone wants regulation limits on donations — but everyone wants disclosure, right?
In a 2013 essay, Smith said proposed new regulations have overlooked some serious problems of increased compulsory disclosure. Such disclosure laws became all the talk after the Supreme Court allowed greater political freedom in campaign spending in 2010, in Citizens United v. FEC.
But Smith warned of the consequences for civil liberties. Smith said after the Washington and California petitioners’ names were made public, some of the opponents of same-sex marriage received angry phone calls, were confronted by individuals in public places, had pictures taken of them and then posted to Facebook, were pushed and yelled at in public, and had garbage thrown on them.
Some lost jobs.
And for what good? Smith said disclosure laws “neither provide the public with good information, nor solve the alleged problems of ‘secret money.'”
All so someone can tweet out donor information on Twitter, with names and occupations, every hour — perhaps hoping one of these donors will be targeted, fired, or yelled at.