Politics & Policy

Is Trey Trainor too Catholic for the FEC?

Democrats’ real complaint is that he staunchly supports the First Amendment.

Is Trey Trainor too Catholic for the FEC?

Trainor, a conservative Texas lawyer with a long background in campaign-finance law, is by his own description “a very devout, orthodox Catholic.” When his nomination by President Trump to the Federal Elections Commission became public, reporters scouring his Twitter timeline discovered that he had retweeted a number of items from Catholic websites including Church Militant, an outlet that is not exactly what you would call ecumenical. All dogs go to Heaven, but the folks at Church Militant are pretty skeptical about the Protestants.

Retweets are not endorsements, as the proverb has it, and Trainor liked to tweet those links at his pastor for future discussion.

Tierney Sneed, writing at Talking Points Memo, shared the shocking news that there are Catholics who believe in “the superiority of Catholicism over other religions.” Trainor is not shy about being one of them. “To attack me as saying that the Catholic Church is the One True Church, you’re accusing me of . . . being Catholic,” he says.

There is a strong whiff of the last acceptable prejudice in Democratic circles lately.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) recently attacked a judicial nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, as being too Catholic for the bench. Senator Feinstein could hardly be faulted for her shock at finding a believing Catholic teaching law at Notre Dame — many conservative Catholics would be even more surprised — but her approach was inquisitorial: “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws, is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”

Oh, it’s of concern, is it?

(Church Militant, to its credit, immediately began selling T-shirts emblazed: The Dogma Lives Loudly in Me!)

The Constitution expressly prohibits the imposition of any religious test for public office, and Senator Feinstein plainly was over the line, a fact recognized not only by conservative critics but also by erstwhile Democratic allies such as former Obama staffer Christopher Hale, now head of a liberal Catholic group, Alliance for the Common Good.

Anti-Catholic prejudice is nothing new in Democratic circles. In 2014, Ronald A. Lindsay wrote an article in the Huffington Post demanding to know: “Should we have six Catholic justices on the Supreme Court?” This was in the wake of the Hobby Lobby religious-liberty decision, which sent our so-called liberals, who are remarkably illiberal, into spasms. Using some embarrassingly mealy-mouthed language, Lindsay argued that

a majority of the Supreme Court may now be resurrecting concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen, or at least between being a good Catholic and an impartial judge. In accepting the Catholic Church’s extremely expansive understanding of what constitutes a burden on someone’s religious beliefs, while simultaneously being dismissive of concerns that would be raised by minority religions, the Court majority is effectively undermining confidence in Catholic judges and forcing us to ask the uncomfortable question: Is it appropriate to have six Catholic justices on the Supreme Court?

Appropriate” is a coward’s favorite word.

The subject of Democratic anti-Catholicism inevitably brings to mind the Ku Klux Klan, which brings us back to Trey Trainor, and the real Democratic complaint against him: He supports the NAACP in the 1958 case NAACP vs. Alabama, in which the Supreme Court found that the state of Alabama’s attempt to force the NAACP to disclose lists of its members and donors was a violation of the group’s civil rights. It was of course also intended to facilitate further violation of the rights of civil-rights activists: That donor list would have been, in effect, a hit list for the KKK, an organization famously described as the military wing of the Democratic party, and for other domestic terrorists as well as for corrupt state officials looking to lean on NAACP donors and activists.

The right of private associations to remain private has been an important feature of American law for a long time, but the Democrats, who have a new terrorist arm in the form of Antifa, wish to reverse that. In California, Attorney General Kamala Harris — now Senator Harris — illegally attempted to extort a donor list out of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative activist group, only to be swatted down by U.S. District Judge Manuel Real, who affirmed that such a demand “chills the exercise of First Amendment freedoms to speak anonymously and to engage in expressive association.”

For activists such as Trainor — i.e., for those who understand the law and prefer to see it followed — the relevant question is the distinction between donations to political candidates and donations to broader activist groups:

Disclosure is the most important tenant that we have of our campaign-finance system. It’s there to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption in our elected officials. Disclosing who is donating to campaigns is important, and there’s a reason the Supreme Court has continued to say disclosure does not violate the First Amendment. But those giving to organizations, whether that’s Texas Right To Life or Planned Parenthood, aren’t giving to a politician — they’re giving to an idea. It’s an idea that the organization stands for. Those donors are not necessarily giving in the expectation of an independent-expenditure activity.

In response to his defense of NAACP vs. Alabama and a long American tradition of freedom of association, progressive critics have denounced Trainor as a “defender of dark money.”

If you’re going to have the anti-Catholic hysteria, you may as well have the conspiracy-theory stuff, too. Expect to hear from the Illuminati before it’s all over.

The Democrats want to have a system under which the New York Times can engage in political advocacy without restriction but Citizens United is prohibited from showing a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the weeks leading up to an election.

Trainor has been described as a “principled libertarian” by retiring FEC commissioner Lee Goodman, whose term Trainor will complete if he is confirmed. He describes himself as someone who simply wants to see the law implemented. “At the end of the day, the First Amendment says what it says, and there’s a reason it’s the First Amendment: The right of political speech of citizens is of utmost importance if we want to continue to have a functioning republic.” The real debate, he says, is not so much over the content of federal election law but the question of where — and to whom — that law applies. Questions about donations to candidates, campaign committees, and political parties are largely well-settled, but there are live issues involving organizations that have broader missions and that are controlled neither by candidates or political parties.

The Democrats want to have a system under which the New York Times can engage in political advocacy without restriction but Citizens United is prohibited from showing a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the weeks leading up to an election — the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose method of regulating campaign finances.

And that is what the campaign against Trey Trainor is really about.


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