Efforts to force civic groups to disclose their donors constitute a real threat by exposing Arizonans to potential harassment for their beliefs.
Many are fighting back against this encroachment on First Amendment rights. Others are making fun of it.
State Rep. Vince Leach recently introduced House Bill 2153 to protect non-profit donor privacy at all levels of local and state government.
Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts would have you believe HB 2153 is more nefarious. According to Roberts, the bill prevents “cities from requiring dark money campaigns to disclose the source of their funding,” so they can “sway our elections from the cozy cover of anonymity.”
Sounds scary, right?
Not really. On “planet reality,” this bill simply upholds the strong donor privacy protections passed by the Legislature in 2016, and extends this coverage to the city level. Importantly, it doesn’t change compliance standards for non-profits. By creating a uniform set of rules and precluding cities from forcing additional disclosures, Arizona’s non-profits can continue doing what they do best.
Buzzwords like “dark money” elicit an immediate, emotional reaction, but donors to non-profits simply aren’t the same as donors to candidates, political parties and super PACs. Those donors clearly intend to support the political speech of the candidate or group they give to.
Arizona voters could decide if they want to curb “dark money” in state and local elections when they head to the polls next fall. But what is “dark money” and why does it matter? Wochit
The same assumption cannot be made about donors to non-profits. Individuals give to non-profits because they broadly support the organization’s goals and beliefs, not because they agree with everything they do. Disclosing these donors as supporters of the group’s political speech – which could be a mere sliver of its total activity – misleads the public.
In addition to bemoaning the practices of non-profits, Roberts makes a mockery of concerns about expansive disclosure laws. Sadly, in today’s age of hyperpartisan politics, being outed as a supporter of a controversial organization or cause can trigger harassment.
In 2013, civilians in Wisconsin watched police officers conduct predawn raids of their homes because they ran organizations advocating for Scott Walker’s collective bargaining reforms.
Last year, a county prosecutor’s office in Washington State teamed up with the Department of Justice to go after private information from an environmental group’s Facebook page when they staged a peaceful protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline. One protester lost her job when she was outed online.
The Valley of the Sun isn’t immune either. In 2011, the home address of the president of the Goldwater Institute was posted online — she awoke the next morning to find that someone had dumped a dead rabbit on her porch and smeared the animal’s blood over her house.
Donors should be free to give to Ben’s Bells, the Goldwater Institute or the Iskashitaa Refugee Network. They shouldn’t have to fear that their name, home address and employer will be published in a permanent and public online database, where it can be used as a roadmap for retribution.
Our state has a rich history of protecting individual liberty. We should welcome the trend of citizens speaking about the issues that matter most to them. Protecting non-profit donor privacy enables a robust civil discourse and ensures the right to free speech, expression and association for all Arizonans.
This post originally ran in The Arizona Republic on March 1st 2018.