U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Springfield says it's a matter of transparency. His critics say it's a hypocritical attempt at intimidation.
In this case, we side with his critics and find his rather obvious attempt to undermine the American Legislative Exchange Council and anyone associated with it to be more than a bit disturbing.
In short, here is what Durbin has done: Raising his ire over stand-your-ground laws in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy in Florida, Durbin developed a mailing list of ALEC corporate and nonprofit donors and sent them letters requesting clarification of their positions on stand-your-ground.
Durbin said he plans to hold a subcommittee hearing next month on stand-your-ground legislation and that he would make the donors' responses public.
ALEC has supported the law in Florida, but the group generally occupies most of its time with economic matters. That, according to Durbin, is the point: Not every ALEC donor likely supports the organization's view on stand-your-ground, and he is merely trying to shed light on how much unanimity of opinion -- or lack of it -- there is.
"Sunlight is better than secrecy when it comes to making laws," Durbin wrote the Chicago Tribune in response to a Tribune editorial upbraiding him about his letter.
Our question for the senator: What does it matter whether 30 percent or 50 percent or 80 percent of ALEC's supporters endorse its position on stand-your-ground?
Not to be naive, but isn't the real issue stand-your-ground? Why doesn't the debate focus on that, whether the legislation has or lacks merit?
And perhaps also, why Washington is mucking around in state legislative matters to begin with?
No, the real effect of that letter is to intimidate ALEC's supporters and donors. Isn't that the point? That the Senate majority whip wants to know your position and plans to expose it in a highly partisan setting?
Sounds like a power play to us.
In calling Durbin on it, it is important to note that we are not reflexive Durbin bashers. We've endorsed him previously for office, and while we've been concerned about his ties to vested interests, we've often been impressed with his sound judgment and with his courage of convictions.
Nor are we what could be described as traditional allies of generally conservative advocacy groups such as ALEC. We consider their assessments on issues, but we find ourselves disagreeing as often, if not more, than we agree.
But the matter is not one of ideology or political points of view. It's not even about so-called stand-your-ground laws, which we have stated previously are worthy of debate.
It's a matter ultimately of free speech.
As we said earlier, Sen. Durbin often exercises good judgment. We ask him to take a step back to revisit his tactics in this case and exercise good judgment again.