NTF Issue Paper: legwatch140.doc. 9-16.
NEBRASKA TAXPAYERS FOR FREEDOM ISSUE PAPER:
PREVENT LIBERALS FROM HARASSING CONSERVATIVE GROUPS.
BACKGROUND. Private political speech guaranteed by our Constitution suffers assault by government regulators, activist judges, leftist activists, and liberal media demanding greater disclosure of donors and members of conservative and nonprofit organizations. Anonymous political speech has appeared in democratic discourse since the founding of our Republic. Debates over whether to ratify the U.S. Constitution primarily emanated from a series of anonymous papers. Cleverly labeled “transparency,” liberals often use disclosure mandates as excuses to silence conservative speech. These mandates have stifled political dialogue, invited harassment and retaliation against speakers, and chilled speech and association. Although the Constitution protects political and private associations against compelled disclosure, liberal judges often have failed to enforce those protections. The liberal objective is to force private organizations to report personal information of their supporters to the government, which then publicizes the information so that liberals can use it to harass their opponents.
CHILLING EFFECT. With our polarized political climate, personal information becomes misused. A California waitress lost her job, after her $100 contribution to support a traditional marriage ballot issue appeared on a state website. Homosexual radicals picketed her restaurant until the company dismissed her. Brendan Eich, the former Mozilla CEO, forced out of the tech company from boycott threats, after the Los Angeles Times revealed his political donation in 2008 to the Proposition 8 ballot initiative in California preserving the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Opponents of Proposition 8 compiled contributor information and created websites with maps showing the locations of homes or businesses of Proposition 8 supporters. Many supporters and their customers suffered property damage and threats of physical violence or death. The Omaha World-Herald published the names of every person who signed a recall petition against former liberal Mayor Jim Suttle. His henchmen used this disclosure to boycott businesses. Such harassment and intimidation for expressing conservative political beliefs directly result from access to personal information. Threats to children, families, and co-workers. Conservative state think tanks and conservative organizations have suffered website hacking, picketing, and break-ins at their offices, where radicals steal and trash materials. Products boycotted, activities intruded upon. The president of the Goldwater Institute, his name and address posted online, found a dead rat on his front porch. Such intimidation restricts the material and human resources that conservative groups need to engage in issues.
SNEAKY TACTICS. Liberals use surreptitious means to push their agenda. One trick is to pass an ethics bill that contains ethics rules for public officials. However, an inserted clause requires conservative groups to disclose contributor information. Another ruse is for the legislature to appoint a liberal ethics commissioner, who then can subpoena names and addresses of conservative supporters, leading to harassment of legislator opponents. Liberals also press bills that force conservative groups that offer voter guides like ours or that email members to lobby on a bill to surrender member information. A common liberal trick is to equate speech about issues with speech urging the election or defeat of candidates. Thus, any broadcast communication that mentions a candidate name during a campaign can count as political spending. This contortion treats supporters of nonprofits who speak on public issues like donors to candidates and political parties. Such approach is unfair and misleading, because though individuals who donate to a political committee or political party know that those funds will support or oppose candidates, the same is not true for donors to independent groups. Member dues to the NRA could become reported to the government and disclosed to gun controllers. Often, small conservative groups decide that expressing their political opinion is not worth the bureaucratic headache and threatened fines and dissolve.
STATE HARASSMENT. Liberals have discovered a new way to harass, muzzle, and shut down conservative and taxpayer rights organizations and activists. They convince state legislators to pass laws that require such groups, if having nonprofit or lobbying status, to divulge the names and addresses of all contributors and officers. Leftists who dislike conservative competition and leftwing officials want to use the force of state law and state agencies to target opponents. Lawmakers introduce disclosure bills to wreak revenge against conservative groups that publicize their rotten voting records. Liberals and their elected official allies introduce bills so wide in scope that activities like communicating with members or supporters about pending legislation become reclassified as electioneering, the groups then reclassified as political committees subject to disclosure requirements the same as candidate campaign committees, despite donor disclosure requirements meant only for candidate campaign committees. Another ruse is pushing bills that require organizations to give the state a list of their top contributors and officers, before they can operate in the state. Documentation given to state agencies automatically becomes subject to public records laws and thus subject to leftwing harassment. Liberals push anti-corruption legislation that forces conservatives who wish to speak at legislative hearings to provide the names and addresses of group members or supporters before testifying.1 Already, Arizona, California, Montana, Utah, and Delaware have such statutes. State governments then splash this personal information on their websites, so that anyone can view it. Texas campaign finance regulators and California officials are attempting to glean names of contributors to conservative organizations under the guise of transparency. Liberals largely have focused their attention on state legislatures, where several proposals have recently passed or almost passed that would require a wide range of mandatory public disclosure. The Minnesota legislature recently considered 2 bills that greatly expanded the definition of “electioneering communication” to include communication that (1) refers to a candidate, (2) distributes within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election, and (3) received by more than 1,500 persons. These bills would have forced conservative groups to produce the names, addresses, and donation amounts of those who donated more than $1,000. There exists much collaboration among liberal bureaucrats in several states to regulate conservative political speech. States include New York, Illinois, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. State government employees freely ask each other for advice and help against conservative groups that refuse to disclose donors. They also exchange strategies for defeating free speech legislation intended to defend our 1st Amendment. A federal court blocked efforts by California officials to force a conservative group to disclose donor names, citing violation of the 1st Amendment. Group leaders had suffered death threats. Under Colorado law, all funding for any “electioneering” activity greater than $250 must become disclosed. The state defines electioneering as any communication published in the 2 months before an election that refers unambiguously to a candidate for an audience that includes voters. There exists no evidence that states with stricter disclosure laws have less corruption, quashing liberal arguments that disclosure rules allow citizens to see if contributors are corrupting public officials. These attempts seek to increase the size and power of government while allowing activists to harass conservatives. A blatant example of intrusion: in 2012, supporters of traditional marriage suffered government abuse after the IRS leaked the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) donor list to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that supports same-sex marriage. The group suffered a campaign of harassment and intimidation against organization financial backers that included business boycotts, physical assault, and vandalizing of private property. The harassment has now pervaded across the nation every time that donor list appears to the point that its donors fear giving money to support the cause in which they believe because of risk to their businesses and families. After years of litigation and testifying to Congress, the IRS admitted abusing its authority and disclosing private information. The agency agreed to pay NOM $50,000 to settle the matter.
LEFTIST OFFENSIVE. Socialist George Soros funds many leftwing groups attacking conservative free speech. His Campaign Legal Center employs a nest of leftwing attorneys who defend free speech restrictions. His group encourages state regulators to stifle public statements that conservative groups make on Twitter and Facebook. Common Cause also attacks conservative free speech. MoveOn.org created a group called Accountable America whose mission is to intimidate donors planning to give money to conservative groups. A co-founder of MoveOn.org freely admitted that his group was “going for the jugular.” The executive director of Progress Now said, “The next step for us is to take down this network of [conservative and libertarian] institutions that are state-based in each one of our states.” In his concurring opinion in Citizens United, Justice Clarence Thomas cited a New York Times article that described a group formed in the 2008 elections that “plann[ed] to confront donors to conservative groups, hoping to create a chilling effect that will dry up contributions … [by exposing donors to] legal trouble, public exposure and watchdog groups digging through their lives.”
Leftist groups relish disclosure, because it helps their fanatical groupies to unleash abuse on donors. Harassment of contributors to conservative causes has become a standard tactic of the militant Left to convince conservatives to stop participating. A persecuted class, conservatives suffer bullying to either conform or suffer retribution, such as public shaming or attacks on their customer base. This coordinated, well-funded effort to force conservative groups to divulge the names and addresses of contributors is part of a plan to choke off funding. Public disclosure of personal information by criminals on the Internet is criminal, but similar government acts liberals call transparency. The liberal media relishes using disclosure information to taint candidates it dislikes. One twisted way that liberals use to exaggerate the effect of money in politics is by attributing to employers the contributions made by individuals. Basing on the intentionally misleading tactic of treating employee contributions as a form of employer contribution becomes possible by disclosure laws, which mandate the reporting of donor employment information, despite the fact that corporate employers cannot directly contribute to federal candidates or direct or order employees to contribute. Despite the large number of disclosure regulations and the real harm that they inflict, government officials and leftists continue to demand more intrusive information about citizen political affiliations and beliefs. Publishing blogs or editorials anonymously likely is the next target. Rebuffed in Congress, liberals press for action by regulatory agencies such as the Federal Election Commission, the Securities Exchange Commission, and the IRS. Without congressional consent, each agency uses its power to require significant new campaign funding disclosures.
OBAMA REGIME. Liberal groups have urged President Obama, who also has threatened, to issue an executive order requiring companies with government contracts to reveal their campaign donors. The Obama Regime FEC is plotting rules to force conservative nonprofits to provide donor names and addresses. These rules would target conservative groups that do not spend most of their time and resources on candidate campaign activities. Forced disclosure has only the purpose of making vulnerable to government harassment and intimidation conservative donors because of their political and social beliefs.
1ST AMENDMENT VIOLATION. Private political expression enjoys a long and cherished history in this country. Our 1st Amendment protects the fundamental rights of association, privacy, and free speech, including contributors to causes. Thomas Paine penned his famous pamphlet, Common Sense, anonymously. His financial backer and publisher, Benjamin Rush, also remained anonymous. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers, their endorsement of the U.S. Constitution, under pseudonyms. At the time of Constitution ratification, Alexander Hamilton suffered personal attacks because of his foreign birth and perceived links to the British monarchy. A less controversial character was James Madison. His Virginia roots would have made New Yorkers suspicious of arguments penned in his own name. The Constitution may never have seen ratification if not for anonymous political speech. On Election Day, Nebraskans can express their political opinion privately, letting their vote, not their name, address, and phone number count. A distorted notion of transparency has generated laws that restrict 1st Amendment rights, deprives voters of valuable speech about candidates and public issues, and skews the political playing field in favor of the Left. Conservative donors value the anonymity of making contributions to conservative organizations, understanding that their voice counts, together with others. These donors oftentimes will NOT contribute, and therefore not exercise their right to free speech and to assemble, if they know that their names and addresses will become publicized and they become targets. Retaliation against speakers who disagree with political correctness make it difficult to determine what speech is allowed and what is not. Then, people refuse to speak, and there is less political speech, which is the antithesis of what our Founding Fathers intended for our nation.
TAKE ACTION NOW. Our challenge is to protect conservatives who choose to remain private. Liberal whining for more disclosure are not calls for transparency and good government. These calls attempt to increase the size and power of government and to enable leftists to harass conservatives. Unfortunately, many citizens cannot differentiate genuine outrage from manufactured outrage. Campaigns and political speech are more heavily regulated than at any time in our history. We need no additional disclosure laws. Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion in Citizens United, “The First Amendment does not permit laws that force speakers to retain a campaign finance attorney, conduct demographic marketing research, or seek declaratory rulings before discussing the most salient political issues of our day.” Yet, liberals create exactly that situation. Campaigns to require disclosure not only pose a threat to free speech but also to the very existence of conservative groups. We must protect the financial resources we need to make our voices heard. Conservatives have a constitutional right to support causes in which they believe and support, without fear of harassment, intimidation, or harm( NTF protects our members by keeping member contact information private). The right of every conservative to support causes in which he or she believes is under attack through compulsory disclosure laws. The government is restricting our ability to work together as a group, supporters intimidated, our voices silenced. The Center for Competitive Politics is challenging this latest assault on private giving and has brought a case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Citizens United is fighting similar demands from liberal New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D). Defenders of the 1st Amendment must readily identify the dangers of donor disclosure and challenge efforts to compel government reporting wherever they occur. As the New York Supreme Court warned in People v. Duryea, a 1st Amendment decision over 40 years ago: Do not underestimate the common man. People are intelligent enough to evaluate the source of an anonymous writing. They can see it is anonymous. They know it is anonymous. They can evaluate its anonymity along with its message, as long as they are permitted, as they must be, to read that message. And then, once they have done so, it is for them to decide what is responsible, what is valuable, and what is truth.
Contact your state senator today to stop this pernicious legislation should it appear in our Unicameral. Fight such legislation and regulations in Congress. Email email@example.com for state senator and Capitol Hill contact information and join our Congress Watch and Legislature Watch Projects.
Research, analysis, and documentation for this issue paper done by Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom. This material copyrighted by NTF, with prior permission granted for its use by other groups in the NE Conservative Coalition Network. 9-16. C