When you have the power of the presidency — the power of the IRS, the INS, the Justice Department, the DEA, the SEC — what you have effectively done is put these guys' names up on 'Wanted' posters in government offices. —Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson
The president is making an enemies list, Wall Street Journal writer Kimberly Strassel suggested in an April op-ed piece — and at least one of the individuals on the list is feeling the effects.
On April 20, President Barack Obama's campaign debuted the website keepinggophonest.com, which listed eight citizens with "less-than-reputable records."
"Quite a few have been on the wrong side of the law, others have made profits at the expense of so many Americans, and still others are donating to help ensure Romney puts beneficial policies in place for them," the website states. It goes on to list the eight donors, with a paragraph about each.
The campaign followed up on Twitter, saying things like, "Thomas O'Malley is CEO of America's fourth largest petroleum refining company — and gave Romney's Super PAC $100,000," and "Romney donor [Frank] Vandersloot is "a bitter foe" of gay rights who paid for ads against an LGBT education effort in Idaho."
"Richard Nixon's 'enemies list' appalled the country for the simple reason that presidents hold a unique trust . . . Their powers — to jail, to fine, to bankrupt — are also so vast as to require restraint," Strassel wrote. "Any president who targets a private citizen for his politics is de facto engaged in government intimidation and threats. This is why president since Nixon have carefully avoided the practice."
The real crime of the men on the list, Strassel said, is that they donated money to Mitt Romney. The act of "attacking" Romney's donors is to frighten others out of giving, she suggests.
"When you have the power of the presidency — the power of the IRS, the INS, the Justice Department, the DEA, the SEC — what you have effectively done is put these guys' names up on 'Wanted' posters in government offices," said former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson.
In a second report on May 10, Strassel followed the story of Michael Wolf, who contacted the Bonneville County Courthouse in Idaho Falls in search of court records dealing with VanderSloot's divorce and a dispute with a former employee. VanderSloot was one of the men spotlighted by the Obama campaign. Wolf, the man seeking the records, worked on the Democratic side of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations until a few months ago.
"Political donations don't come with a right to privacy, and Mr. VanderSloot might have expected a spotlight," Strassel wrote. "Then again, President Obama, in the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting, gave a national address calling for 'civility' in politics. Yet rather than condemn those demeaning his opponent's donors, Mr. Obama — the nation's most powerful man — instead publicly named individuals, egging on the attacks. What has followed is the slimy trolling into a citizen's private life."
In a May 6 letter to the editor at The Wall Street Journal, Tom O'Malley, who was listed on the Obama for America website, said he "can't believe that the president has authorized such a self-destructive strategy" and suggests that the administration "disown" the author of the list.
His own record in job creation, he said, is such that — if it qualifies him to be on Obama's enemies list — "It would be good for the country if the list were expanded."
During an interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto, VanderSloot said his business is being hurt by the attacks, and that a "couple hundred" people have canceled customer memberships.
"Those people that I know well weren't affected by this [attack]," VanderSloot said. "But for people who didn't know me, who are members of our business or customers, and they were reading this, then we got a barrage of phone calls of people canceling their memberships with us."
In an interview with Greta Van Susteren, VanderSloot also said people have been calling his children, surfing their LinkedIn sites and asking them for interviews. None of the complaints against him stuck except for the one calling him a "a bitter foe" of gay rights, VanderSloot said, and he said that's far from the truth.
"The truth is I consider many gay people as personal friends, I've never spoken ill of a gay person in my life, I've never been judgmental of a gay person, I believe gay people should have the same rights as all Americans — I don't know how anybody who knows me could consider me anti-gay, but that was the story."
"By golly, this is America," VanderSloot told Cavuto. "This shouldn't be happening. If we cower from this, then it'll invite more of it."
Media Matters for America argues that VanderSloot is fair game for the Obama campaign, as he is "not merely a 'private citizen,' but actually a high-ranking member of Romney's campaign." A Feb. 2012 Boston Globe article lists VanderSloot as a national finance co-chairman of the Romney campaign.
Fair game or not, Democrats may regret having started the public name-and-shame game with political donors, a Wall Street Journal op-ed warned.
"If Democrats think it is 'legitimate' to prowl and publish the divorce records of Romney donors, no one should feign shock if some right-wing investigators is soon doing the same to Mr. Obama's bundlers and super PAC donors," the editorial said. "A president who claims to want 'civility' in political discourse will reap what he sows if he plays by Nixonian rules."