Public Citizen defends anonymous political speech

From a New York Times post about a dispute between Koch Industries, Inc. and a Public Citizen-allied group:

“Although this case arises out of a harmless prank, it raises serious constitutional issues,” said Deepak Gupta, a Public Citizen attorney, in the release posted at the organization’s Web site. “The First Amendment protects the right to engage in anonymous speech, especially political speech. Koch should not be able to unmask its political critics just because it can hire lawyers and file a lawsuit. The court should put a stop to Koch’s intimidation tactics.” [emphasis added]

From Public Citizen’s motion to quash a Koch subpoena:

The right to engage in anonymous speech “is a well-established constitutional right. In fact, anonymous political speech is an especially valued right in this nation.” [citations removed] From the literary efforts of Mark Twain to the authors of the Federalist Papers, “[a]nonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind.” Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 64 (1960). As the Supreme Court wrote in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission:

[A]n author is generally free to decide whether or not to disclose his or her true identity. The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one’s privacy as possible. Whatever the motivation may be, . . . the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. Accordingly, an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Public Citizen then argues that this jurisprudence applies to political speech on the Internet. It’s too bad that they also don’t take the position that all associations of political speakers using any medium of communication should be protected:

“Disclosure is vital so that voters can fairly judge electioneering statements,” said Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Without that information, voters are effectively wearing blindfolds when it comes to the true motivations behind campaign ads.”

Public Citizen, a front group for hippies and yuppies, also published a screed this month warning about the supposed pernicious impact of anonymous political activity in the midterm elections and urging Congress to reconsider the DISCLOSE Act so “the ability of front groups to hide the identities of corporate donors to their political campaign budgets would be ended.”

Updated to add information at 10:30 p.m.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.