Rumors are floating around Twitter that proof of Brendan Eich’s donation was illegally leaked by people in government sympathetic to the cause of gay marriage. Not so. I’d forgotten about it, but friends reminded me that the LA Times obtained a list of people who gave, for and against, to the fight over the Prop 8 referendum in 2008. They put the whole database online and made it searchable. Search it today and, sure enough, there’s Eich with a $1,000 donation in favor. Under California law, that disclosure is perfectly legal: The state is authorized to provide certain personal information about anyone who donates more than $100 to a ballot measure. Why the state is allowed to do that, I’m not sure. The reason you want transparency when donating to a candidate is to prevent an elected official, who’s supposed to serve the public interest, from being secretly coopted by huge sums of money provided by a special interest. In a ballot measure, though, the money being spent is designed to influence the public itself. They’re the final arbiter of the public interest, no?
At the very least, if you’re worried about shadowy interests pouring cash into ads to sway a public referendum, the financial threshold to trigger disclosure should be way, way higher than $100. The Prop 8 donor list now functions essentially as a blacklist, and Eich isn’t its first or only victim. Remember, people who gave to Prop 8 have been harassed and had their property vandalized; the Heritage Foundation issued a report chronicling cases of intimidation back in 2009. Either Eich didn’t know the law when he chipped in 10 times the disclosure amount or he assumed that giving to a political cause as a private citizen wouldn’t cause people he worked with for years to force him out of the company upon conviction of a thoughtcrime. Which, by the way, is what this was. Jonathan Last seizes on the significance of Mozilla chair Mitchell Baker admitting that “I never saw any kind of behavior or attitude from him that was not in line with Mozilla’s values of inclusiveness.” If that’s the case, says Last, why exactly was Eich ousted?
So the problem isn’t with how he comported himself. It’s with what he thought…
Now that we’re in the realm of thought-crime where Eich loses his job not because of how he behaved, but because he gave money to a cause which is deemed untouchable, let me ask you this: What if Eich hadn’t given $1,000 to support Proposition 8. What if, instead, the tech community simply found out he had voted for it?
By any reasonable chain of logic, voting for Prop. 8 is at least as bad–probably even worse–than merely giving money to support it. A vote for Prop. 8 is an affirmative action taken to directly advance the cause, rather than the indirect advancement of financial support. If Eich was a known Prop. 8 voter, would there have been a similar campaign against him? I can’t think of a reason why not.
If voting to ban gay marriage is grounds for dismissal, wonders Last, wouldn’t/shouldn’t voting against cap-and-trade be grounds? What about voting against tax hikes on the rich? Eich didn’t oppose gays working for Mozilla. He didn’t oppose them donating to pro-gay causes. He didn’t oppose gay employees from getting married. Or so I assume; if he did, his business partner Baker presumably would have mentioned it. He engaged in a private, perfectly legal act of expression, and now he’s out on his ear for it. Even Andrew Sullivan, who’s spent decades championing the cause of gay marriage, is horrified at his ouster.
Ultimately this guy was purged for two reasons. One: Boycotting someone just for holding an opinion is typically reserved for the worst, most outre opinions in society. If Eich had turned out to be a neo-Nazi, no one would have grumbled about Mozilla dumping him. The point of treating him like a Nazi, where a single donation to a single taboo cause constitutes grounds for dismissal, is to place opposition to gay marriage in the pantheon of opinions so terrible you dare not utter them aloud if you value your career. This guy never saw it coming, I’m sure, especially from “friends.” Two: There is, let’s face it, a revenge element in all this. To this day, it’s legal in many jurisdictions to fire someone for being gay. Having spent ages at risk of punishment for their own private, now perfectly legal conduct, some gay-rights activists might be happy to destroy someone like Eich — even though there’s zero evidence that he himself opposes gay rights in any respect save marriage, his definition of which is (presumably) guided by religion. That sort of revanchism is counterproductive since it only builds opposition among people who are otherwise well disposed to their cause, but that’s how it is. Now that they have some political power, they’re going to bloody some noses on the other side. Again, pour encourager les autres.