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Boycotts Of Trump Donors Prompt Debate Over Public Shaming Of Political Contributions

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Trump campaign donors are under pressure. A congressman tweeted the names and businesses of top Trump donors this week. Then, a boycott was called against a businessman who's hosting a fundraiser for the president's re-election bid. All this has prompted a sharp public debate about the public shaming of political contributors. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Let's start on Twitter and Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, who is also the co-chairman of his twin brother Julian Castro's campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. Congressman Castro's tweet, three days ago, included a graphic listing dozens of names of business owners and their businesses in his district, all of whom have maxed out in donations to Trump this year. Castro was accused of targeting Trump donors for hostility. He's been defending himself since.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

JOAQUIN CASTRO: My post was actually a lament.

GONYEA: This was on the "Morning Joe" program on MSNBC. Castro noted that he didn't disclose any secrets, that the information can all be found online. As for those he named, he wanted San Antonio voters to know who they are.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

CASTRO: When we patronize these places and they're giving this money - their money to this guy who's taking their money and using it to buy Facebook ads talking about how Hispanics are invading this country...

GONYEA: Then this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

CASTRO: We saw the cost of that in El Paso over the weekend - that people died.

GONYEA: And that El Paso connection was what really prompted the outrage. President Trump tweeted that Castro had made a fool of himself. Kellyanne Conway, the president's adviser, talked to Fox News from the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

KELLYANNE CONWAY: This is a terrible precedent. It doesn't matter that it's public record. It matters that he's put together some kind of target list. And he is making - trying to make life miserable - or worse - for law-abiding citizens who are expressing their First Amendment right to put their money where their politics is.

GONYEA: Castro says he wants Trump donors to think twice. He insists he's not calling for boycotts. But others are. One prominent target this week is the popular fitness chain SoulCycle.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: SoulCycle is an extraordinary place.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It's an exercise community. It's social, and it's joyful.

GONYEA: SoulCycle's owner, Stephen Ross, who also owns the NFL's Miami Dolphins, is hosting a big Trump fundraiser at his home on Long Island tomorrow. The president is scheduled to attend.

Now, the law requires public disclosure of campaign donations above $200. Sheila Krumholz is with the Center for Responsive Politics and is a fierce advocate for transparency. She says the timing of Castro's tweet, coming right after a weekend of violence, plays into the hands of anti-transparency forces.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Which are out there - there are folks who would like nothing better than to remove access to information about who's paying for our elections.

GONYEA: But she also stresses that the point of disclosure laws passed after the Watergate scandal is to monitor politicians and the impact of contributions, not to target individual donors. David Keating is an attorney and president of the Institute for Free Speech.

DAVID KEATING: The reason for this database is to make sure that contributions that are coming in to a candidate are on the up and up. And it's not something we should encourage politicians or anyone else to use this to target people to take retribution against these individuals.

GONYEA: Keating and other conservatives say such episodes only highlight how current campaign disclosure laws missed the mark.

Don Gonyea, NPR News Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF LES SAVY FAV SONG, "BRACE YOURSELF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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