In most state and federal elections, if you contribute anything greater than de minimis amounts to a candidate running for elected office, a political party, or a Political Action Committee (PAC), you must acquiesce to having your name, address, employer, and occupation published in a government database. Often, this sensitive, personal information is posted on the Internet for anyone to see – including your coworkers and nosy neighbors. More political disclosure information is required currently than at any time in our history, and it’s troubling to see citizens being required to register with the government just to exercise their First Amendment rights. The Institute for Free Speech works to ensure that disclosure requirements do not become overly burdensome or threatening to donor privacy.
Increasingly, we find donor information being used by non-governmental entities and individuals to harass, threaten, or financially harm speakers or contributors to candidates and causes with whom they disagree. Once contributor information becomes public, little can be done to safeguard against potential harassment. The government agencies that manage these databases have also shown a tendency to accidentally leak private and sensitive information about donors.
While disclosure of significant financial contributors can inform voters as to who is supporting a candidate, low disclosure thresholds make disclosure information less meaningful by muddying disclosure reports with the names and addresses of smaller, inconsequential donors. Although sold as a virtue, disclosure comes with a cost, and is often very invasive. Accordingly, disclosure should be mandated only at thresholds that capture the most significant donors to candidates and causes.
For an in-depth explanation of this complex and oft-mischaracterized issue, please read the Institute’s Policy Primer on disclosure here.
Articles of Note
- USA Today: Campaign donor secrecy stops retaliation: Opposing view, By Eric Wang
- Washington Times: The right to speak and be left alone, By Scott Blackburn
- Daily Caller: Citizens United Redux: The Masses Deserve A Media Exemption Too, By Eric Wang
- NY Times: Against Disclosure, By David M. Primo
- The Hill: Disclosure’s unintended consequences, By Eric Wang
- Politico: Time to shed light on disclosure bill, By David Keating and Eric Wang
- Daily Caller: DISCLOSE will chill speech, By John Samples
- Cato Institute: To Fix Our Campaign Finance System, Liberalize Political Speech Rather than Restricting It, By Ilya Shapiro