Sen. Durbin ushers in new era of McCarthyism

But Durbin doesn’t hope to achieve any legislative goal with these letters. The senator would rather abuse his bully pulpit and advance the causes of fringe progressive groups who have made ALEC their bogeyman du jour--the same groups that shamelessly exploited the untimely death of Trayvon Martin and ALEC’s ties to laws tangential to the case, trying to link ALEC to the tragedy.

It’s illegal for elected officials to use their taxpayer-funded offices for political activity, and if Durbin shilling for liberal groups in his official capacity as a senator doesn’t cross that line, it’s disturbingly close. Furthermore, whether these groups have supported ALEC or “stand your ground” laws is no one’s business but their own, and the states that have duly passed these laws don’t need an Illinois senator meddling in their affairs.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle should be furious at Durbin for his glaring overreach, and harassing their constituents. If Durbin were truly concerned with “stand your ground” laws, he could have tried persuading politicians who support the policy to change their mind. Instead, he chose to compile a Nixonesque enemies list, in a quest to expose “known ALEC associates” that would have made Joe McCarthy proud.

McCarthyism may be laughable in retrospect, but it posed a serious threat to the personal and political freedoms Americans hold dear. The Constitution guarantees us the right to associate with whomever we please, and that right is placed in jeopardy when a senator uses the full force of his prestigious office to go on the hunt for ideological rivals.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t comforted by Durbin’s ‘acknowledgement’ of our “organization’s right to actively participate in the debate of important political issues,” regardless of position. Considering the senator is looking to convene a hearing on “the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights,” it would behoove him take a long, hard look in the mirror--and maybe dust off his copy of the Constitution--before September.

Durbin’s disturbing tactics are a disgrace to the office he holds and the people he represents. The burden of setting him straight falls not only on the American people, but more heavily, his colleagues in Congress.

We’ll keep an eye out for Dubin’s next letter of correspondence. We expect it to be an apology.

Stverak is the president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. The Franklin Center was a sponsor of ALEC's 2011 annual conference.