Free speech is the most fundamental principle upon which American society and our system of government are built. It’s why our founder chose to emphasize this above all other protections atop the Bill of Rights.
Through a confluence of events, 2016 is shaping up to be an extremely consequential year for legal and policy decisions that will shape the future of speech rights in America, with broad ranging concerns that will impact the freedom of expression that we all enjoy as individuals.
A highly coordinated and well-funded effort by left-wing organizations has taken hold, with the aim of eroding donor privacy protections in an attempt to intimidate and stifle the free speech rights of those whose opinions they oppose. But don’t be fooled by the false veneer of their efforts to frame this in terms of “transparency,” or other innocuous sounding labels. This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to silence their opponents.
That’s why it’s refreshing to see that even the left-leaning Center for Public Integrity is calling out the hypocrisy of leftist groups that complain about so-called “dark money.” Many of these groups that advocate against donor privacy, CPI found, are taking extensive steps to protect the privacy of their own donors. The report lists 21 of these organizations that have vocally opposed donor privacy without fully disclosing their own donors: “dark money fighting dark money.”
This is an issue that we’ve been covering extensively at Watchdog. For example, we exposed the hypocritical advocacy efforts of Represent.us, where the group’s efforts to create municipal ethics boards has been caught in an ethical quagmire of their own in in Florida, and found to have broken multiple state election laws in Michigan.
We’ve already seen what happens when donor privacy is compromised, and the result is always devastating. The prime example occurred in 2013 when we learned that the Obama Administration used the force of the Internal Revenue Service to target center-right organizations and donors for merely exercising their constitutionally protected rights to free speech. Victims endured constant harassment at their homes and businesses, delayed approval for their applications for non-profit status and even the leaking of their confidential tax filings. During this time, many confidential donors to conservative organizations and campaigns were exposed to the public. In June 2014, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris ruled that the IRS must pay the National Organization for Marriage $50,000 for leaking their tax filings – which included the names of the group’s contributors – to ProPublica, a liberal media outlet who published them.
There are good people across the political spectrum who worry about bad politicians making things worse for our country, and for good reason. But stripping average Americans of their rights– Americans who care so deeply about the direction of their country that they’re willing to sacrifice their hard-earned money to fight for it – isn’t going to make politicians accountable. It will only put citizens in danger of being targeted by their neighbors, their employer and even their own government for their beliefs.
Today, politicians and ideologues are trying to destroy the very liberties our nation was founded upon. As voters, we have a right to privacy at the ballot box, and we must ensure that those same protections remain in place for all citizens to engage in the political and public policy process.