Garrett's Withdrawal for the Sake of Family
By Carter Clews
Several decades ago, erstwhile political maven Frank Mankiewicz (most famous for having been Robert Kennedy's press secretary) originated what became known as the Mankiewicz Rule of Political Discourse. To wit: Whenever politicians say they are resigning for “family reasons,” there is one thing of which you can be absolutely certain -- they're not.
Enter – and, quickly exit – Elizabeth Garrett, Barack Obama's thoroughly unqualified nominee to be the Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy (as a member of Bush's Tax Advisory Panel, she recommended a massive Value Added Tax). In explaining her reason for withdrawing from consideration, Ms. Garrett oozed, “Aspects of my personal family situation have required that I reassess my initial decision to be considered for this office.” The critical “aspect” apparently being that she didn't want her family to suffer through the humiliation of watching her track record for political vindictiveness exposed outright for the whole world to see.
The fact is, Elizabeth Garrett had been told in no uncertain terms by a number of key Republicans (and a few conscionable Democrats as well) that her announced plans to go after non-profits with a meat ax was thoroughly unacceptable. Advised by groups like Americans for Limited Government of Garrett's penchant using tax law to gut non-profits, even some of the senators she had counted on for support informed her that she would be lucky to make it out of committee, let alone achieve passage by the full Senate.
And thus, she decided to “reassess my initial decision.”
In Ms. Garrett's case, her proposal to have the IRS reveal the names of donors to non-profits, was not only unprecedented; it was unjust – and dangerous. It would have put the American people at risk and provided heavy-handed predators a ready list of targets to intimidate and, yes, punish. It would have undermined the liberty of individuals to donate anonymously to causes that believe in without creating a high – and potentially dangerous -- profile.
Of course, Garrett offered the meaningless caveat that she would make sure the newly released lists could not be used by those who might wish to harm donors with whom they disagreed. And if pigs had wings, they'd fly.
As Garrett well knew, her proposal itself would have effectively shut down non-profits that depend on anonymous donors. Organizations from the all points on the political spectrum would be devastated by such a policy clearly designed to hinder free speech and intimidate those who deigned to exercise it.
Not to mention that her intent was entirely contrary to the precedent set in NAACP v. Alabama (1958), which protected anonymous memberships of political organizations. After Alabama had required the NAACP to release to the State's Attorney General all members' names and addresses as part of their strategy to disrupt operations, the Supreme Court decided unanimously that mandatory disclosure would suppress membership and was unconstitutional.
Writing the Supreme Court's majority opinion, Justice Harlan stated, “We hold that the immunity from state scrutiny of membership lists which the Association claims on behalf of its members is here so related to the right of the members to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in so doing as to come within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. And we conclude that Alabama has fallen short of showing a controlling justification for the deterrent effect on the free enjoyment of the right to associate which disclosure of membership lists is likely to have.”
Garrett would have disregarded this critical precedent in order to suppress free speech from non-profit groups, and the right of individuals to freely associate with these groups—even in anonymity. Under Garrett's proposed policy, the names of donors over a thousand dollars would have to be released to whomever decided they might come in handy. And if those who took advantage of her largesse decided to use the names for the purpose of intimidation … well, Ms. Garrett, like Casablanca's Captain Renault, would have been “shocked, just shocked.”
Fortunately, certain members of the Senate did not buy what Garrett was selling. As Garrett's friend and former Capitol Hill colleague Jeff Trinca said, she may not have been willing to undergo the rigorous vetting process. So, she was forced to withdraw her nomination for “aspects of my personal family situation.”
And now, personal families nationwide can be greatly relieved that their own personal privacy—as well as their lives and limbs—have been saved from a woman who clearly equated the power to tax with the power to destroy.
Carter Clews is the Executive Editor of ALG News Bureau.