In recent months, the extent to which fundraising drives Republican tactics has come into sharper focus. As conservatives prepared for their government shutdown, for example, Brian Walsh, a former spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, “[T]his is about political cash, not political principle.”
This quote came to mind late last week when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced he plans to lead a class action lawsuit against the NSA over its data collection programs.
Paul claimed on Fox News that since he started collecting signatures six months ago, hundreds of thousands of people have signed on. Paul wants to take his suit to the Supreme Court.
“The question here is whether or not, constitutionally, you can have a single warrant apply to millions of people,” Paul said of the suit. “So we thought, What better way to illustrate the point than having hundreds of thousands of Americans sign up for a class action suit?”
Because of the scope of the NSA’s activities, Paul added, “every person in America who has a cell phone would be eligible for this suit.”
To be sure, legal challenges to NSA surveillance programs are important and noteworthy, and lawmakers should be engaged in a meaningful debate over the scope and utility of the national security state. A class-action suit like this one would be worth watching closely.
But taking a closer look at Rand Paul’s initiative raises questions about what’s really driving the effort.
In this case, Paul hasn’t actually filed the lawsuit; he’s simply talking to conservative media outlets about his intention to eventually go to court. When might we expect this to begin? “His office did not give the specific timeline for when the senator would file the suit,” The Hill reported.
Well, at least it’ll break new legal ground, right? Actually, no: “So far though, the details of Paul’s lawsuit are murky. A legal counsel for Paul told Daily Intelligencer Friday that he expects the case will be similar to another NSA suit filed by birther provocateur Larry Klayman.”
Hmm. So, Rand Paul is eager to talk to conservative media about a lawsuit he hasn’t filed that will be duplicative of a lawsuit someone else has already filed. So why bother? Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog flagged a likely explanation:
Paul’s Senate campaign website already encourages individuals to “please sign below and join my class-action lawsuit and help stop the government’s outrageous spying program on the American people.”
The solicitation, which asks for individuals’ names, email addresses and zip codes, also asks for a donation to help “stop Big Brother from infringing on our Fourth Amendment freedoms.”
Oh, I see. Rand Paul’s campaign operation – as opposed to his Senate office – is overseeing this project. Like-minded Americans can fight “Big Brother” by giving a U.S. senator their name, email address, zip code, and their credit card number if they don’t mind. Paul isn’t talking to conservative media to talk about the lawsuit – because at this point, there is no lawsuit – so much as he’s making the rounds to encourage people to go to his campaign website. That way, they can support a project that will encourage the senator to go to court to file a suit that another conservative group is already litigating.
Chris Hayes made a comment last year that continues to resonate: “Much of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks.”