Joaquin Castro is a House member representing San Antonio and a few of its suburbs, and the twin brother of Julián Castro, who is running for president (incidentally, Joaquin is also his brother’s campaign chief). Earlier this week, he tweeted out a list of his fellow San Antonians who had donated the maximum to Donald Trump’s campaign. “Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders,” Castro wrote, and the list included 44 names:
Sad to see so many San Antonians as 2019 maximum donors to Donald Trump — the owner of ?@BillMillerBarBQ?, owner of the ?@HistoricPearl, realtor Phyllis Browning, etc?.
Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders.’ pic.twitter.com/YT85IBF19u— Joaquin Castro (@Castro4Congress) August 6, 2019
The tweet became national news yesterday, in part because House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, the Republican who was seriously hurt when he was shot at a congressional baseball game in 2017, tweeted out a condemnation and linked it to a Daily Caller article:
People should not be personally targeted for their political views. Period. This isn't a game. It's dangerous, and lives are at stake. I know this firsthand. https://t.co/PbxUMIOhae— Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) August 6, 2019
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy echoed these sentiments, per Newsweek:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, also accused Castro of “targeting and harassing Americans for their political beliefs,” saying that it is “shameful and dangerous.”
Tucker Carlson, not to be outdone, said that these kinds of actions are leading us to civil war.
Of course, they're wrong—Castro was simply spreading information that is already public. It's his belief, and the belief of many others, that this level of support for Donald Trump is tantamount to support for the kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric the president routinely espouses, and which arguably helps inspire acts of nationalistic violence, including the El Paso mass shooting that no doubt inspired Castro's tweet in the first place. To him, their donations are putting lives in danger by furthering Trump's agenda—an agenda at least two Democratic presidential candidates have classified as “white supremacist”—and enabling his rhetoric to spread far and wide, including to places where it can inspire vigilante acts of terror. Naming his supporters? That's called accountability.
Equally as important, Castro is only spreading information that is already public. Political donations in America are a matter of public record, as Amanda Marcotte pointed out on Twitter:
Here is a public list, compiled and made available by law, of everyone who has donated to Trump. I encourage everyone to engage their legal right to peruse and share this information, which is made public for literally this purpose. https://t.co/aDTvEtibTj— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) August 7, 2019
If you wish to narrow down the list to people in your community, congrats! Look to the left. There's search functions that help you do just that. Which is literally what the database was made for. Here, for instance, are the Trump donors from New York. https://t.co/kkdhOxu390— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) August 7, 2019
It’s not just Trump—it’s every candidate. People can hide their donations to a specific candidate or cause by giving money through political action committees or super PACs, but individual donations totaling over $50 in a calendar year are a matter of public record. There’s a reason for this, and that reason is transparency and—allow me to repeat myself—accountability. Not just for the donors, either; it’s part of the process of keeping individual campaigns accountable to report the truth.
Often times, people are surprised by the kind of information that is documented in the public record. Laws vary by state, but if you live in America, there’s a good chance that anyone with the know-how can look up your address, your voting record (when you voted, and your party, but not how you voted), the price of your home and the details of its purchase (including a copy of the mortgage), arrest/divorce/marriage/birth records, and more, all using government-run websites or, in cases where the information isn’t digitized, in courthouses or registers of deeds.
Some people don’t like this amount of transparency, which is a valid opinion. But that opinion goes against the current laws of our country, and to argue that Castro shouldn’t have tweeted out information on Trump’s donors is to argue, by implication, that this information shouldn’t be public and the current laws should be changed. While we’re all free to make that argument, we should also beware that it’s the same as advocating for a more opaque political system at a time when we’re already overrun at the local, state, and national levels by the hidden influence of the wealthy and powerful. Do we really want to erode the systems of transparency that remain to us?
My opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is that Castro’s tweet represents an act of positive democracy, and if it did elevate personal risk for those he listed—which I find very far-fetched but which I can’t discount totally since we live in a strange world where strange and horrible things can happen—it’s a low risk that is worth the price of accountability. Amanda Marcotte tweeted out yesterday the names of three celebrities that have donated the maximum to Elizabeth Warren, but you’ll notice that nobody is talking about their lives being in danger. The reason we’re even having the discussion with the 44 San Antonio donors is because Trump’s policies inspire the kind of loathing that stirs a strong emotional response. If you believe that Trump and his agenda are damaging our country, then it follows that you feel the same about those that donate to him. If those people are business owners, you may want to stop frequenting their establishments. If they are your neighbors, you may want to reconsider your relationships. That’s up to each person, depending on how seriously he or she takes his or her political beliefs—personally, I have Republican family members that I still love and get along with, including some Trump supporters. That’s a decision I’ve made, and others are free to make the same or different decisions. But at the very least, the availability of this information strikes me as foundational to American democracy—Castro’s tweet was a public service.