May 16, 2015

SMOKING OUT CONSERVATIVE DONORS:  The Center for Competitive Politics–a conservative-leaning supporter of free political speech–has petitioned the Supreme Court to stop California state Attorney General Kamala Harris from gaining access to its list of donors, contained in a Form 990 that is filed with the Internal Revenue Service (as part of its application for 501(c)(3) educational organization status).  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered CCP to comply with California’s demand.  In their filing, CCP asserts that it has a First Amendment right to keep its donors private, based on the Supreme Court’s 1958 decision in NAACP v. Alabama, in which the Court unanimously protected the NAACP’s membership lists against compelled disclosure to Alabama officials, declaring:

This Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations. When referring to the varied forms of governmental action which might interfere with freedom of assembly, it said in American Communications Assn. v. Douds, “A requirement that adherents of particular religious faiths or political parties wear identifying arm-bands, for example, is obviously of this nature.” Compelled disclosure of membership in an organization engaged in advocacy of particular beliefs is of the same order. Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs. . . .

Petitioner has made an uncontroverted showing that on past occasions revelation of the identity of its rank-and-file members has exposed these members to economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility. Under these circumstances, we think it apparent that compelled disclosure of petitioner’s Alabama membership is likely to affect adversely the ability of petitioner and its members to pursue their collective effort to foster beliefs which they admittedly have the right to advocate, in that it may induce members to withdraw from the Association and dissuade others from joining it because of fear of exposure of their beliefs shown through their associations and of the consequences of this exposure.

It is not sufficient to answer, as the State does here, that whatever repressive effect compulsory disclosure of names of petitioner’s members may have upon participation by Alabama citizens in petitioner’s activities follows not from state action but from private community pressures. The crucial factor is the interplay of governmental and private action, for it is only after the initial exertion of state power represented by the production order that private action takes hold.

If protecting NAACP membership lists is protected by the First Amendment, there is no principled reason why CCP’s membership lists should be any different. Progressives have shown that they are more than willing to harass and intimidate donors to conservative organizations.  Just ask the tea party groups targeted by the IRS, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), or the conservative groups such as Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservatives in Wisconsin.

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