House Republicans’ recently announced effort to probe the activities of environmental groups and foundations like the Rockefeller Family Fund and Union of Concerned Scientists is wrong. And it’s wrong for almost exactly the same reasons that many left-wing groups were wrong to encourage a government attack on groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Peaceful political activity and speech should never be considered illegal, much less evidence of a criminal conspiracy. A “show us your papers” subpoena of the sort that left-wing groups got state attorneys general to issue to conservative groups is no less offensive simply because it comes from people who espouse a conservative philosophy and support free markets.
There are, to be sure, important differences between the subpoenas from the House Republicans and those issued by Democratic attorneys general. In particular, the House Republicans effort does, in part, target the conduct of government officials. These requests are legitimate—as such requests almost always are.
But attacks on non-profit advocacy groups are a different story altogether. The fact that many of the groups now being attacked by House Republicans encouraged more-or-less identical attacks on right-of-center groups isn’t an excuse either. Two wrongs don’t make a right and government attacks on political speech are never, ever right. Period.