Prop 8 is a prop that will ban gay marriage in CA. Here’s a news story about the backers of it:
*Prop. 8 directors somehow saw this as justification for sending letters to about three dozen companies that donated to the opposite campaign. OK, we’re all for free speech, and complaining about someone else’s closely held beliefs is fair game. But in this case, the Yes on 8 people demanded equal contributions to their campaign, or they would “out” the donor:
“Make a donation of a like amount to ProtectMarriage.com which will help us correct this error,” reads the letter. “Were you to elect not to donate comparably, it would be a clear indication that you are in opposition to traditional marriage. … The names of any companies and organizations that choose not to donate in like manner to ProtectMarriage.com but have given to Equality California will be published.”
The pro-8 campaign continues to confuse support for same-sex marriage with lack of support for traditional marriage. *
Umm- does this not smell a great deal like blackmail or extortion?
Full disclosure. I have already voted No on Prop 8, but I have not supported the NO campaign by contibutions or campaign work.
Well, while the idea behind this strategy is sort of silly, and is clearly intended to play on fears of homosexuality among certain groups, i’m not sure that it’s extortion or an “outing” in any real sense of the word.
After all, the companies that give money to Equality California are listed right there on the EQCA website. It’s not like this is some secret list of in-the-closet homos whose lives will be ruined by the outing. It’s a list of companies that donate to EQCA, and who are acknowledged in public as having done so.
Surely any company that gave to EQCA, and whose name is on the website, has already taken into consideration the possible impact on their business of this sponsorship decision.
And, on a broader note, companies take this sort of risk whenever they offer financial or other support to controversial causes.
Attempting to extort? Probably. I never said i thought they were nice people.
But you can really only succeed at extortion when the threat you use is one that has some real meaning. Going to a company that has had its donation to EQCA publicized and saying, “If you don’t donate to us we’ll publicize your donation to EQCA” doesn’t really qualify as extortion, in my opinion, because the consequences of failing to pay up are basically zero.
Also, i think that we are best served as a society when this sort of information IS public, and when companies are willing to stand behind their decisions. I bet that most of those companies have already figured that they are unlikely to lose business from this, even if their donations to EQCA become widespread public knowledge.
The letter that the Prop 8 supporters sent is an amazing display of hubris and stupidity, and also reflects a pretty narrow-minded mindset, but i still don’t see it as extortion in any meaningful way.
The crucial difference is that the Klan-sponsored boycotts were frequently based in the threat of violence. Not only did individual Klan members choose not to use black-owned businesses, but they made clear to other whites that using those businesses would have harmful consequences. That sort of coercion is unacceptable.
If you’re going to argue that boycotts and similar “outings” of businesses’ political activities are wrong or immoral, then you have to be consistent.
For example, what about all those people in the 1980s who called for boycotts of, and divestment from, companies that did business with South Africa’s apartheid regime? Or the people who boycotted Nestle for its baby-formula practices in India. Or those who call for a boycott of cosmetics companies that test on animals? Were these people also wrong to do that?
No- my Klan analogy rests on the fact that they were attempting to leverage a boycott of businesses that hadn’t done anything wrong, not that they were backed with threats of violence against whites who patronized black businesses (I didn’t know that.)
The only reason I brought that up is because you said this doesn’t matter because the information is freely available anyway. Thus, the parallel- knowledge of whether a local restaurant is black-owned was also freely available.
Conversely, I highly doubt that more than a handful of people knew what Nestle was doing with baby formula, or which companies did business in South Africa.
ETA: This strategy is often used with conservative groups to block advertising revenue; it’s a favorite of the Parents’ Television Council, for example. “You advertise during Sex and the City? We’ll tell everyone you support smut!”
As a company CEO, I would simply respond, “We will not make a like donation to your organization, and if you do make a public scene about our contribution, that will compel us to double* that contribution in response to your efforts. No on 8!”
*provided this would be legal with contribution amounts
First, let me revise my earlier position just a little.
I think the letter itself could be construed as extortion, even though i think the consequences are so small as to not really merit the term.
If the Prop 8 supporters had simply published the list without sending the letter, i would have no problem with them at all. The fact that they sent private letters in an attempt to get money does suggest a certain level of extortion or blackmail. It seems, at the very least, that there was some intent to blackmail or extort, even if they didn’t actually have much power to reveal anything that people didn’t already know about the companies.
Personally, i really like ArchiveGuy’s hypothetical response.
On the more general issue:
But, in the absence of coercion, i would also not have an objection to Klan members (or non-Klan members) deciding not to patronize black-owned businesses. Similarly, i have no problem with African Americans who decide not to patronize white-owned businesses. Or, to be more precise, i have a personal objection to their reasons, but i respect their right to make the decision.
In an ideal world, people wouldn’t do this, but i think that we should be free to decide who we will and will not buy stuff from.
Maybe; maybe not.
But i’m not really sure what you’re arguing here. Do you believe that the people who called for those boycotts were wrong? If not, why not?
Well, this comes down primarily to a moral argument, so it may be that we just don’t see eye-to-eye on this.
But to be quite honest, i don’t care that the Parents’ Television Council makes threats like that. They can make all the threats they like about outing people who support shows they disagree with, and they can take out full-page advertisements to carry out those threats. And people can then make their own minds up about whether they want to support the company. That’s what the free exchange of information is all about in a free society.
I say all this as someone who thinks the PTC and similar conservative “values” groups are a bunch of idiots, and who is adamantly opposed to Prop. 8 here in California.
For me, whether or not a boycott is appropriate comes down to the cause. Obviously, (or perhaps not), I was (and remain) strongly opposed to apartheid, and I believe that economic pressure against businesses which were propping it up was just. I honestly have no idea what Nestle was doing in India.
I probably should have explained this better since I’m railing against something in one sense and defending it in another. Here goes:
This Prop 8 letter is wrong because it’s (attempted) blackmail. If they were simply announcing a boycott of companies which supported P8 I wouldn’t have a problem with that in itself - although I’d be denouncing them anyway since all this “defending marriage” nonsense is just window dressing for the genuine concerns (ie., “gays are icky”).
The Klan thing is wrong because they were just trying to fuck black people- they were boycotting black businesses just to put them out of business, not to change their behavior (unless you count being black-owned as a “behavior”!)
Free exchange of information and freedom to commit libel are not the same thing, though.
What’s the legal definition of blackmail, anyway? If I have photos of a certain prominent politician engaging in gay sex, and I threaten to release them if he doesn’t give me money, I’m pretty certain I’ve broken the law. If the politician in question happens to be Barney Frank, I assume the fact that my threat doesn’t have any teeth doesn’t lessen the criminal offence, right? Does it make a legal difference if the threat is against an organization, instead of an individual?
Might it not be actual criminal extortion? I don’t know anything about this area of law, but it seems to me that it would depend on whether a generally unknown fact that is on the public record can count as a secret.
Philippine Exp. & Foreign Loan Guar. Corp. v. Chuidian, 218 Cal. App. 3d 1058 (1990).
I’m not sure of the legal answer to your question, but i’m also not sure your example is the functional equivalent of the case described in the OP.
Threatening to release pictures of someone having sex is not the same as threatening to tell the world about that person’s sexual orientation. I’m straight, and i don’t care who knows it, but i still don’t want pictures of myself having sex released for public display (the public probably wouldn’t want that either). So, a threat to release pictures of me having sex would have a very different effect on me than a threat to release information about my sexual orientation.
If you sent Barney Frank a letter threatening to reveal to the world that he’s a homosexual, he would, of course, laugh at you. And that is, i think, the functional equivalent of the case at hand, where the Prop 8 supporters are threatening to reveal information that is already publicly available.
Now, as i said, i’m not sure what the legal question would be in either of these cases. For example, if i did send Barney Frank a letter threatening to tell the world he’s gay if he doesn’t give me money, does the fact that this is already common knowledge reduce my offense? My guess is probably not, although i’m not sure. It seems to me that the intent, the mens rea, is still present, even if the blackmailer is a dumbass.
As for Richard Parker’s question, again i’m not sure of the legalities. But, from a personal point of view, i don’t believe that the term “secret” in that court case should ever apply to documents that are a matter of official public record.