Sunday, November 30, 2008

In election campaigns,
there's no private space
(except in the ballot box)

Someone named Richard Raddon who worked as director of the Los Angeles Film Festival gave $1500 to the campaign to pass Prop. 8, the state constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. Not surprisingly, a lot of people thought robbing others of their rights was rotten behavior and said so, forcefully, both to his employer, Film Independent, and to Mr. Raddon. After some pulling and hauling, Mr. Raddon has resigned from his job.

He is distressed that people thought his contribution to the initiative campaign should expose him to public criticism. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, he issued what strikes me as a very naïve statement:

I have always held the belief that all people, no matter race, religion or sexual orientation, are entitled to equal rights. As many know, I consider myself a devout and faithful Mormon. I prefer to keep the details around my contribution through my church a private matter. ...

The first sentence is simply nonsense -- he contributed to legally mandating inequality; he can't, except as dissimulation, to claim otherwise. The second sentence raises additional issues about how we have chosen to preserve democratic rights in campaigns.

What got Mr. Raddon in trouble was campaign finance law that forces disclosure of who gives money to election campaigns. This is a profoundly progressive legal concept, though its implementation can be cumbersome. If rich people could throw money at campaigns without any disclosure, we'd have no idea which interests were buying a megaphone. If Raddon had wanted to finance private education courses for Mormons and others about the evils he apparently thinks arise from same-sex marriage, very likely nobody would have been the wiser and therefore, nobody would have complained. But he chose to intervene with a non-trivial sum in a fight over public policy in the arena of electoral democracy. I'm inclined to feel, if he can't take the heat, he should have stayed out of the kitchen.

But he and his supporters don't see it that way. One of the board members of film festival complained:

"Someone has lost his job and possibly his livelihood because of privately held religious beliefs. I think the organization was ready to tough this out, but Rich ultimately decided it wasn't worth the cost. ..."

Again, that first statement is literally untrue, though the speaker doesn't seem to realize it. Giving money to a political campaign is a public act. Enlisting the state to enforce one's "privately held religious beliefs" is a public act. You may be able to do it, but don't expect to walk away without having the people on the wrong end of your new law mad at you. You have engaged in public conduct and may have to weather public disapproval.

I also note Mr. Raddon describes his donation to the "yes on 8" forces as being given "through my church." This may be a figure of speech - or it may be literal. His church is also subject to campaign disclosure law. According to the New York Times, the Mormons are being investigated about whether they disclosed their participation in the campaign properly. Note -- there was nothing wrong with their participating -- but California law requires churches as well as individuals to take public responsibility for what they do with money to influence elections. Churches have every right to advocate in the public sphere for what they believe in -- and, if they choose to try to enforce their values beyond the voluntary circle of their membership, face the wrath of those who don't share their values.

Mr. Raddon found himself particularly vulnerable to pressure from those hurt by what he chose to do with his money because he worked in the public cultural sphere. For a lot of people, public culture functions as various churches, with various beliefs, function for their members: as the arena where deep values and commitments are explored. I'm a little surprised Raddon didn't know that people around him might have serious conflicts with his values. Thinking that he could weather the likely storm seems almost willfully deaf to the probable consequences of his action in his environment.

1 comment:

sfmike said...

The naivete really is extraordinary, isn't it? Unfortunately, it's all tribalism at its worst, both the Mormon attitude and the gay reaction, though that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to lose his job. It's a bit like giving money to the "No on 8" campaign while working as the manager of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Context does make a difference.

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