The First Amendment is quite clear on the whole free speech thing:
“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of
the press…” And the Founding Fathers were quite clear on the
anonymous speech thing, with James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and
John Jay authoring the Federalist Papers under aliases.
And yet for the past several years, Nevada Secretary of State Ross
Miller has been on a crusade to stifle free speech by trying to force
non-profit organizations to disclose the identities of their donors
which could, as has happened in the past, subject those supporters to
harassment, intimidation and outright threats.
Fortunately, in a lawsuit Miller filed against Americans for
Prosperity, Senior District Judge Robert Estes recently ruled against
Miller and declared that AFP is “neither required to register with the
Nevada Secretary of State nor report contributions and expenditures”
to the government.
This is an important ruling, especially since Miller has sued my
organization, Citizen Outreach, in a similar case. A different judge
ruled against us last summer, but we’re appealing that decision,
especially in light of the AFP decision.
Clearly, different folks of reasonable mind can come up with different
interpretations as to whether certain advertising constitutes “express
advocacy” or “issue advocacy,” making it painfully obvious that that
there is enough ambiguity in the law to make it virtually impossible
for the average citizen to know what the heck the campaign finance
rules are these days.
Equally troubling, however, is how some members of the media have
responded to the AFP decision; siding with Miller and championing
“transparency” (which is not in the Constitution) over free and
anonymous speech. With all due respect, these folks might want to
rethink their position because… they could be next.
Indeed, there is no special carve-out in the First Amendment for the
press. If the government can successfully force disclosure of donors
to non-profit organizations, what’s to stop it from forcing similar
disclosure reporting of the financing for newspapers (which outright
endorse candidates), columnists and blogs?
Indeed, if the argument is that someone is trying to influence an
election by contributing money anonymously to a non-profit
organization, who’s to say someone isn’t trying to influence an
election by “advertising” (wink-wink) in a newspaper or paying a
blogger or columnist?
Of course, I’m totally, unalterably opposed to the idea that
newspapers, columnists and bloggers should have to fill out campaign
finance reports and submit them to the government for public scrutiny.
But that’s the slippery path we’re treading if we continue to allow
Secretary Miller to continue eroding the same privacy protections the
authors of the Federalist Papers enjoyed.
What’s next? Eliminating secret ballots in elections? (Oh, snap…
unions are already doing that!)
Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public
policy grassroots advocacy organization. He may be reached at