By Bradley A. Smith
In the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case, however, the court carved out a narrow exception, allowing the government to compel the disclosure of information about donors to groups controlled by political candidates and parties, or that have the primary purpose of engaging in political campaigns. But the court also defined political activity narrowly, to include only the express advocacy for the election or defeat of a candidate. The ruling specifically did not include the discussion of candidates and issues as a political-campaign activity.
None of this was perceived as a major problem so long as the 501(c)(4) category was dominated by the political left. Beginning in the 1990s, however, and especially since 2010, organizations that were more conservative began using the 501(c)(4) category to engage in public education as well as political activity, thus challenging liberal dominance in nonprofit advocacy.
In response, the left has attempted to silence conservative 501(c)(4)s by unveiling and harassing their donors. This has included boycotts of businesses—such as Coca-Cola and Wendy’s—that contribute to free-market causes and candidates, and of businesses whose employees gave to such candidates and causes. It has included harassment, threats and vandalism aimed at conservative donors and churches, particularly in California during the campaign over the Proposition 8 initiative to bar same-sex marriage.