There has been a rash of stories over the past few weeks about conservatives connected with the film industry suffering various forms of persecution. The most straightforward, and least sinister, of these incidents was actress Maria Conchita Alonso getting kicked out of a Spanish-language production of "The Vagina Monologues" because she appeared in a humorous campaign ad for California gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly, who is a Tea Party Republican.
Everyone involved was cheerfully straightforward about blacklisting Alonso for her political views, which even she conceded would likely hurt the production with its close-minded, intolerant San Francisco audience. "Listen, it's the best for everybody," the actress sighed when giving up her part in the play. It was widely agreed that the production was entitled to employ whoever it wanted to deliver that vagina monologue; Alonso is constitutionally entitled to her free speech, but not her job. The media tactfully pretended to forget that the same people who bullied Alonso off the stage would detonate in a hydrogen-bomb blast of all-consuming fury if a liberal was ever treated the same way for her views, anywhere in America.
Rick Ungar at Forbes thinks conservatives should be muted in their criticism of the producers who wouldn't stand behind Alonso, noting "the producers would have do to so at a considerable financial loss."
You see, the production in which Ms. Alonso was scheduled to perform is being staged in The Mission district of San Francisco - an area whose population is largely made up of very liberal young people, including a substantial LGBT population who object to supporting an actress who is backing a candidate who is loudly opposed to gay marriage. The area also has a heavy Latino population that now lives in the Outer Mission who might have some issues with Ms. Alonso's support of Donnelly, given that he was once a member of the Minutemen, a vocal opponent of allowing illegals to attend California universities at the same cost as legal California residents and a strong objector to illegals' right to obtain a California driver's license.
A not unreasonable financial analysis... and remember, this is totally different from the original Red Scare blacklist Hollywood can't stop talking about, half a century later, because those people did have a Constitutional right to their jobs. It's in one of the penumbras of the First Amendment, or maybe it's an emanation. Anyway, rest assured that under certain circumstances, Hollywood is absolutely appalled at the thought of entertainers getting dismissed from film or theater productions because someone thinks their political views are objectionable.
If you're curious, this is the ad that resulted in Alonso losing her opportunity to perform "The Vagina Monologues" for a city determined to have a political monologue with itself. It's not exactly lockstep agreement with every bullet point on the Donnelly agenda (if you'll pardon the pun.)
Next we come to the Friends of Abe, where things get much more disturbing. The Friends of Abe is a small group of Hollywood conservatives who meet anonymously, with the exception of a few well-established high-profile members, because they know damn well they'll get blacklisted into oblivion if they're outspoken in their political views. The "Abe" they're all friends of is Abraham Lincoln. They chose the name as a little dig at the "Friends of Bill," the rather large contingent of Hollywood power players who have been extremely loyal - and useful - to Bill Clinton, who was president somewhat more recently than Lincoln.
That kind of seditious talk was too much for the Internal Revenue Service, which stands eternally vigilant to ensure everyone goes through hell to get a tax-exempt status, because they might just abuse that benefit for unacceptable partisan activity. Well, unless they're a group that used to be called "Obama for America," or maybe a shadowy group run by one of President Obama's relatives. That kind of group gets waved through the express lane, because there's absolutely no reason to suspect they might ever do anything partisan. Look, wingnuts, fully a dozen - okay, maybe more like ten - progressive groups had trouble getting past the IRS watchdogs, along with the four hundred conservative groups they held in limbo until the 2012 election was safely concluded, so there's no scandal here.
But the Friends of Abe? You do know Abraham Lincoln was a Republican president, don't you? That's as partisan as it gets! Who knows what sort of mischief they might get up to? Granted, President Obama frequently portrays himself as a friend of Abe, if not his spiritual successor, but until Lincoln is officially reclassified as a Democrat In His Heart by executive order, conservative groups that want to avoid vivisection by the IRS had better keep their distance from him.
The Hollywood conservative group found itself on that notorious IRS "Be On the Lookout" list, so after two years they're still waiting for approval of their application. As the New York Times relates, the IRS at one point demanded access to a website that would have revealed the names of Abe's friends, which is precisely what the group was founded to avoid, and not normally the sort of information the IRS needs to make a determination on tax exemptions... any more than they have a logical reason to demand the prayer books from a pro-life group, but they did that too. No word on whether they've demanded a copy of the rules to any Friends of Abe drinking games.
It's not as if the IRS is in the habit of granting such exemptions to similar left-wing groups which are far larger, richer, and more influential than the Friends of Abe. Oh, wait, yes it is:
People for the American Way, [Norman] Lear???s group, stands as something of a liberal counterpart to Friends of Abe, though the organization is far larger, with an affiliate that spends millions of dollars a year on issue advocacy in Washington and beyond. But the entertainment industry has been crisscrossed by progressive groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, which maintains a tax-exempt educational adjunct under the 501(c)(3) provision, and includes the producer Laurie David and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio among its trustees. Another, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, is a nonprofit that supports marriage rights for gay people and counts the producer Bruce Cohen and the writer Dustin Lance Black among its founders.
Friends of Abe began as "little more than an email chain linking conservative stars, filmmakers, and other Hollywood figures who were generally reluctant to openly discuss their views." These days they have their website, and host events where conservative political and cultural figures are invited guests. The "liberal counterpart" groups mentioned by the Times have considerably more industrious agendas.
"We wanted to plant our feet in the ground, collect money from people interested in what we were doing, and trying to organize a program and educate ourselves about who we are and how we relate to the outside world," one of the public members of the group, film producer Lionel Chetwynd, told Greta van Susteren of Fox News. "That application was made a very, very long time ago. And it had been met only with questions and more questions and more questions without resolution, which means that you really can't go any further. And so, what one would have to feel... well, we are not a very high priority. Whereas we see other organizations in town with a different point of view, get through the process much more quickly."
And then you've got conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, who finds himself boiling in considerably hotter water. He was obliged to fly to New York and surrender himself for arrest following indictment by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York for violating campaign finance laws. D'Souza is accused of improperly bundling too much money into the 2012 Senate race in New York, presumably on behalf of long-shot (and unsuccessful) Republican candidate Wendy Long.
After investing several paragraphs in making sure readers know just how controversial and arch-conservative the lightning-rod author of several books critical of Barack Obama, and maker of "2016: Obama's America" is, the Washington Post gets around to detailing his alleged crime:
The criminal charges, filed in U.S. District Court, allege that D???Souza in 2012 illegally reimbursed associates whom he asked to make donations valued at $20,000 to an unnamed Senate campaign. At the time, primary and general election campaign contributions to federal candidates were limited to $2,500 each from any individual to any single candidate.
Those limits on candidate donations have been dramatically surpassed by the increasingly common practice of using nonprofit groups as a vehicle to make unlimited contributions to independent political committees. Recent court decisions have sanctioned and encouraged large-dollar donations from individuals, unions and corporations, provided the funds are spent independently of a candidate???s official campaign.
According to the indictment, D???Souza???s straw donor scheme caused the campaign committee to falsely report to the FEC the sources of its contributions.
D???Souza was charged Thursday with one count of making illegal campaign contributions, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. He also is charged with one count of causing false statements to be made to the FEC, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.
As the Post goes on to note, this is only a misdemeanor offense when done on behalf of a Democrat such as John Edwards, so on the off chance D'Souza was rounding up donations for Kirsten Gillibrand in New York, he'll be just fine.
I thought the governing philosophy of the Obama years is that you don't have to obey inconvenient laws, especially if you think they're silly, or they'd get in the way of your party doing well in the next election, but maybe that only applies to certain people. The system didn't seem very exercised by Barack Obama's creative campaign financing, but by gum, it's going to put its foot down on Dinesh D'Souza! His legal representatives maintain that his worst offense was failing to correctly follow complex financial regulations while trying to help a friend:
D???Souza, who has written over a dozen books imparting his provocative views on religion and politics, could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. But his attorney, Benjamin Brafman, released a statement to reporters saying that D???Souza???s efforts to help a friend running for the Senate in 2012 was ???at most??? an ???act of misguided friendship.???
???Mr. D???Souza did not act with any corrupt or criminal intent whatsoever,??? Brafman said in the statement. ???He and the candidate have been friends since their college days, and ???at worst, this was an act of misguided friendship by D???Souza. . .It is important to note that the indictment does not allege a corrupt relationship between Mr. D???Souza and the candidate.???
The Hollywood Reporter quotes the co-producer of "2016," Gerald Molen, suggesting the charges against D'Souza are politically motivated: "In America, we have a long tradition of not doing what is commonly done in too many other countries - criminalizing dissent through the selective enforcement of the law... When American citizens begin to suspect that people are being arrested for alleged minor violations because of their vocal dissent against their elected representatives or rulers, it breeds disrespect and contempt for the law and suspicion of those officials."
Molen implied that the campaign finance prosecution could be "intended to deter the release of his upcoming film," to be titled "America," and predicted "that effort will fail."
Whatever the specifics of the charges against D'Souza, and his legal defense, turn out to be, it's hard to deny that campaign finance laws are hideously complicated. They're not enforced with equal vigor in all respects, against all alleged violators. That's the problem with incredibly complex bodies of law in general: many things become hypothetically illegal, but those in power decide what is actionable. There is a great deal of room for such discretion to be abused. The abuses seem to swing heavily in one political direction these days.