Baltimore Evening Sun (13 February 1914): 6.
The Rev. Dr. Oscar Woodward Zeigler’s proposal, in The Evening Sun of Wednesday, that the corrupt practices act be so amended that all organizations taking part in political campaigns be required to make returns of their expenditures is one that must commend itself to all fair men. If a candidate himself is forced to report every campaign contribution he receives and every expense he incurs, certainly it is only just to exact the same open dealing by those who oppose him, whether they be individuals or societies. As things stand, it is perfectly possible for such an orgamization as the Anti-Saloon League, for example, to spend large sums of money in the effort to defeat a candidate who refuses to submit to its orders, and neither the source of this money nor the exact manner of its expenditure need be accounted for. Not only is this possible, but it has actually been done, and not once, but many times.
It is to the interest of good government, of course, that the discussion of a candidate’s fitness for office, during a political campaign, be perfectly free and that every citizen be allowed to take part in it, but free discussion is one thing, and systematic wire-pulling is quite another thing. The Anti-Saloon League, as we know it in Maryland, is frankly a political machine, practicing exactly the same methods that other political machines use. It has its professional sluggers, lay and clerical, who are paid for their electioneering, and it has its bosses and backers who hide behind them. It is highly important that the identity of these bosses and backers be clearly established, and that the extent of their contributions to the campaign fund be made public, to the end that the voters may take due account of their general reputation for wisdom and honesty, and of their probable motives for going into politics. The majority of them, no doubt, are men of the highest character, but there are others whose lack of sense is so marked that their simple unmasking would be sufficient to set off the effect of their secret replenishing of the bar’l.
Soon or late, the law will have to deal with such organizations, which are increasing in number and power all over the United States. Many of them--in fact, most of them--are mere devices for providing easy jobs for their paid whoopers and game-beaters. It is thus to the advantage of such professionals to provide a lot of public excitement, regardless of the effect on the public welfare, for it is excitement that attracts spectators and subscribers. Hence the senseless raids of the Lord’s Day Alliance, the lawless mountebankeries of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, the patent-medicine show methods of the Anti-Saloon League and the pornographic enterprises of the so-called Maryland Society of Social Hygiene, an organization run by vice crusaders (i. e., huntsmen, showmen) masquerading as scientists. Half the energy of all such dubious societies is frankly devoted to shaking down the pious, the other half being devoted to getting the pious in good humor by giving them spicy shows.
Personally, I believe that it would be highly injudicious to adopt legislation forbidding the formation of such private sporting clubs. They do a lot of harm, true enough--first, by filling the statute books with donkeyish and unenforceable laws; secondly, by giving poltroons and boot-lickers an advantage over honest men in politics, and thirdly, by facilitating blackmail. But any attempt to meet and overcome these plain evils by a frontal attack would necessarily involve a limitation of the right of free speech, and free speech, under a republic, is a thing of such capital value that everything else must be sacrificed to its preservation.
But though the prohibition of such societies would thus be dangerous, there still remains the device of requiring them to submit their inner works to public inspection. As things stand, their chief power for evil lies in the fact that they afford an excellent cloak for two classes of anti-social persons--first, men of means who enjoy persecuting their fellow-men but are not courageous enough to do it in the open, and secondly, professional snouters and sneaks. Both classes, I think, would be reached by a law requiring all such societies to be registered and licensed, and forcing them to make public, at least once a year, a full list of their contributors, a statement of their receipts and expenditures, and the names and addresses of their hirelings.
In this belief, I have had my solicitor prepare the following act, and my agents at Annapolis will present it to the Legislature:
An Act to regulate persons and societies engaged in efforts to enforce or amend the criminal laws of Maryland, or of the United States in Maryland, and to prevent blackmail by such persons.
Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland, That it shall be unlawful for any society, whether incorporated or not incorporated, or for two or more individuals acting together, or for any individual acting as agent for another or others, to engage in any investigation or denunciation looking to the arrest of any person or persons accused or suspected of violating any criminal statute of Maryland, or any criminal statute of the United States in Maryland, without first obtaining a license to be issued by and at the discretion of the Secretary of State, and to be recorded in a book to be kept by him for that purpose.
Section 2. The fee for such license shall be $1, and it shall bear on its face a list of the statutes, whether of Maryland or of the United States, which the license proposes to enforce by such investigation or denunciation, and the permission thus granted shall apply to such statutes only, and no other.
Section 3. Such license shall run for a period of one year next following the date of issue, and shall be renewable annually at the discretion of the Secretary of State on payment of $1 for each renewal.
Section 4. The holder of every such license, whether an individual or an association, shall deposit with the Secretary of State, before the first day of February in each year, a true and complete record, verified by affidavit, of all subscriptions, whether in money or in goods, received by him or them during the calendar year next preceding, and this record shall show the names and addresses of all subscribers and the exact amount subscribed by each.
Section 5. The holder of every such license shall also deposit with the Secretary of State, at the same time and likewise verified by affidavit, a true record of all expenditures made by him or them during the said calendar year, showing the recipients and the purposes to which applied.
Section 6. In case any such individual is convicted of a felony or misdemeanor committed in the course of his licensed investigation, or any agent of any such association is so convicted, the license of the said individual or association shall be forfeited without further process, and the Secretary of State shall henceforth issue no license under this act to such individual or association or to any member or agent of such association.
Section 7. All the provisions of this act shall apply exactly as herein described to individuals or associations engaged in campaigns for the enactment of new criminal statutes of Maryland or of the United States, or for the amendment of existing statutes.
Section 8. Any persons convicted of violating any provisions of this act shall be
[The rest of it tomorrow.]