In the News The Hill: Protecting privacy of nonprofit donors is key to our democracy By Luke Wachob The IRS recently dealt a blow to efforts to violate nonprofit privacy when it announced that it would no longer collect the names and addresses of donors to many nonprofits. In response, critics are outraged that this policy […]
Archives for July 2018
The Institute for Free Speech is pleased to welcome Mike Columbo as a pro bono Senior Fellow. Mike is Of Counsel in the Political Law Section of the California law firm of Nielsen Merksamer. In his practice, he supports and defends businesses, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, political committees, and individuals engaged in the political process. […]
Filed Under: Blog
By Luke Wachob
The IRS recently dealt a blow to efforts to violate nonprofit privacy when it announced that it would no longer collect the names and addresses of donors to many nonprofits. In response, critics are outraged that this policy change opens the door to foreign spending in our American elections. That charge could not be more off the mark.
Let us get a few things straight. First, nonprofits can accept money from foreign sources, but they are legally prohibited from using it to support the election or defeat of candidates. The ban also applies to broadcast ads that mention the name of a candidate in the time near an election. Second, a donor name and address does not tell you whether it is a U.S. citizen or green card holder. Many Americans live abroad, and many people in the United States are not citizens or legal permanent residents.
The mass collection of donor names and addresses was all risk and no reward. The information was supposed to be confidential and redacted on publicly disclosed forms, but the information sometimes leaked out, at times to adversaries of an organization. The IRS made clear in its announcement that it does not use donor names to enforce tax laws, and nonprofits will still have to maintain records in case of an audit.
The Federal Election Commission, which is the agency actually in charge of enforcing campaign finance laws, did not have access to the donor names collected by the IRS. Nor is the Federal Election Commission a major player in preventing foreign spending in elections. The Treasury Department handles the bulk of that task through the Bank Secrecy Act.
It is easy for politicians to claim the IRS is undermining the ban on foreign spending in elections when government methods for policing foreign money are not commonly known. In reality, the IRS simply made a commonsense decision to end the mass collection of personal information it did not need and could not reliably protect.
By Zac Morgan
Just recently, a federal court in Oregon prevented a public high school from banning an anti-immigration T-shirt from its campus, notwithstanding the shirt’s capacity to be viewed as offensive, even hateful. According to Nadine Strossen’s latest volume, ‘Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship’, this is an outcome to be celebrated-not merely because it comports with the Constitution, but because so-called “hate speech” bans are unconstitutional and ultimately counterproductive.
‘Hate’ is a slim volume, consisting of nine chapters where Strossen, a former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, makes her case. The book presents itself as an accessible legal brief aimed at the social justice left, which appears to be forsaking its 1970s-era robust view of free speech, as well as First Amendment practitioners looking for a distillation of the state of play…
Strossen makes the case that if hate speech laws were on the books throughout the last half of the twentieth century, there would have been no civil rights era, and precious little advance of the gay rights agenda in the twenty-first century.
After all, hate speech laws, like all laws, must be enforced by the state-and in a democratic society, that means the present majority. The law is a blunt and powerful censorial tool that, as Strossen demonstrates using examples from Europe to Africa, is often used in actual practice to silence the minority groups “hate speech” laws purport to protect…
Ultimately, Strossen counsels that people must listen to one another, persuade, convince, and when necessary-without state coercion-apologize. Not only is this more effective than enacting hate speech codes, people of all sides might come to simply “know better.” And people cannot do that if the state gets in the way.
By Matt Nese
The Institute for Free Speech honored the 60th anniversary of the landmark US Supreme Court case, NAACP v. Alabama. The Court’s unanimous ruling protected the privacy of the NAACP and its members at the height of the civil rights movement. Today, it stands as one of the most important precedents protecting the right of nonprofits to advocate on issues free from burdensome government disclosure mandates.
To commemorate this important victory for privacy and free speech – and to raise awareness of the threats the ruling faces today – Institute for Free Speech experts authored an issue brief on the case, wrote op-eds for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Examiner, and participated in a debate at the Cato Institute on the decision’s legacy…
As the Court wrote in its decision, “It is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as [other] forms of governmental action…”
Despite NAACP v. Alabama’s clear articulation of the right to associational privacy, state governments often jeopardize this cherished freedom with vague and over broad disclosure laws…
Every legislative session, IFS discovers and analyzes bills in state legislatures that would violate the privacy of nonprofits and their supporters. Raising awareness of NAACP v. Alabama and the importance of associational privacy is key to pushing back against this dangerous trend.
Filed Under: In the News
By Eric Beech, Karen Freifeld, and Warren Strobel
A lawyer for Cohen, Lanny Davis, released the recording of Trump and Cohen discussing paying for the rights to a Playboy model’s story about an alleged affair with Trump and it aired on CNN on Tuesday Night.
Government watchdog group Common Cause has said that the proposed payment benefited Trump’s presidential election campaign and the failure to document it was potentially illegal.
Some legal experts, however, say that if the payment was made for personal reasons, it would not run afoul of federal election laws.
Under U.S. election law, presidential candidates must disclose expenses, loans and campaign contributions, which are defined as things of value given to a campaign in order to influence an election.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said the proposed payment was a personal matter and not subject to campaign finance law…
Bradley Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said that Trump could have considered making the payment for reasons unrelated to the election.
“People in Trump’s position have all kinds of reasons for making these kind of payments, like family harmony or retaining commercial viability,” said Bradley Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.
Featuring Bradley A. Smith and Caleb O. Brown
What does a decades-old ruling on the First Amendment tell us about the right of associational privacy today? Bradley Smith of the Institute for Free Speech comments on the ongoing relevance on the 60th anniversary of NAACP v. Alabama.