Ah, the “reformers” are at it again in Wisconsin. Today the state Senate passed SB 43, a bill that requires groups involved in issue advocacy to disclose their private donors.See CCP’s press release for complete details. CCP also sent a letter to the Wisconsin Assembly, where this bill now heads, urging members to reject this attempt to intimidate donors to advocacy groups in Wisconsin.
Supporters of the bill, such as the lobbyist for Common Cause Wisconsin, have fallen back on tired talking points, calling First Amendment associational protection backed up by Supreme Court precedent protecting the anonymity of political activity “loopholes” that allow the “cancer” of free speech to be exercised in Wisconsin.
Once again, the anti-free speech zealots fail to understand the importance of a free and vibrant political process. What does revealing the fact that John Doe cuts a $100 check to the NRA or the trial lawyers every year reveal to Wisconsin citizens who are concerned about the ethical nature of their government? Answer: Not a thing. The “special interests” targeted by the reformers in bills such as SB 43 are nothing more than groups of people who want to educate others on issues they find important. John Doe, realizing he can only talk to so many people about firearm safety or tort issues, realizes that donating to advocacy groups maximizes the message he wishes to spread. There is nothing inherently or facially corrupt about giving to a group that espouses a belief to which one ascribes. So why, then, would the government need to know who John Doe is and how much and to whom he gives his money?
Because, argue reformers, these groups publish “phony issue ads” which can talk about candidates. And these issue ads are sometimes negative ads. And these negative ads insult the delicate egos of our poor, defenseless incumbents who did nothing to deserve that kind of treatment! Quick, regulate those people who say mean things now!
Beyond the obvious affront this poses to the right to free speech we are all supposed to enjoy, it’s easy to see why an individual wouldn’t want their personal giving broadcast for all (and especially the government) to see. The concerns that retributive measures can be taken against individuals who protest the status quo were addressed in NAACP v. Alabama, where the Supreme Court recognized that “[i]t 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.”
The fact that the state government is ready to pass a barrage of regulations that insult the privacy of individuals because they are offended by something someone once said in an ad is disconcerting, to say the least.