|CFIF Scores Legal Victory Against Campaign Finance Regulations, Vindicating First Amendment|
By Timothy H. Lee
Friday, September 21 2012
Imagine the following harrowing scenario.
You’re an ordinary citizen. You live in an ordinary community, leading a relatively normal American life. Perhaps you own a small business. You struggle to stay afloat in a difficult economy made worse by adverse regulatory headwinds. Lacking the spare thousands of dollars required to retain a personal lobbyist representing your values and interests in Washington, D.C. or your state capital, you decide to make your voice heard by contributing a small amount of your hard-earned dollars to an organization that happens to represent your views and other individuals with whom you agree.
Sounds innocent enough, right?
But now fast forward to days, weeks, months or even years later.
Suddenly one morning, you discover that your name, home address and other personal information have been publicly posted on the Internet by someone who viciously disagrees with your point of view. Perhaps even by a terrorist organization. You immediately worry whether you, your family, your employer or your business will be targeted by vindictive Internet trolls with nothing better to do that target people whose political, religious or personal views they despise.
It’s not an unrealistic scenario. In fact, as anyone who pays attention to political events across the nation knows, it happens all too often.
For example, former Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chairman Bradley Smith and Allen Dickerson of the Center for Competitive Politics cite two prominent examples in The Washington Examiner:
“[A]fter Proposition 8 passed in California, disallowing same-sex marriage, numerous businesses were boycotted, often merely because one of their employees had contributed to the traditional marriage side of the debate. Many of these employees were fired or forced to resign. Others had their property vandalized.
In 2004, a number of political donors found their names on the website of a group identified by the FBI as a terrorist organization. Their ‘offense?’ They worked for employers who did business with a company that the terrorist group didn’t like. They were listed, with their home addresses, on the website, under the headline, ‘now you know where to find them.’ The FBI determined that the terrorist organization had gotten their addresses and employer information from the public disclosure required by the federal government of campaign donors.”
We live in an age of instant Internet access, street-level images of one’s own home via functions like Google maps and documented instances of retaliation for simply expressing a political or philosophical opinion.
With that in mind, should individual citizens be forced by the federal government to expose themselves to that sort of scenario simply for exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech and association?
After all, the ability to express one’s viewpoints, whether collectively or individually, was the freedom perhaps most valued by our Founding Fathers. For precisely that reason, the First Amendment provides, in relevant part:
“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
That freedom was also the basis of the 1958 United States Supreme Court ruling in NAACP v. Alabama, which held that, “Immunity from state scrutiny of petitioner’s membership lists is here so related to the right of petitioner’s members to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in doing so as to” trigger Constitutional protection.
Fortunately, we at CFIF won a significant legal victory this week in federal court on behalf of those freedoms. Additionally, CFIF’s achievement came at the expense of Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D – Maryland), a particularly unpopular figure among conservatives and libertarians across America.
In Center for Individual Freedom, et al. v. Christopher Van Hollen and Federal Election Commission, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that organizations can engage in political speech protected by the First Amendment without being forced by the government to disclose donor lists and personal information.
Notably, the decision was unanimous among judges appointed by presidents of both parties. Moreover, it came just four days after oral argument, a remarkably short turnaround time for an appellate court ruling.
The ruling constitutes a critical victory for donor privacy, which will help protect citizens engaging in free political speech from unnecessary retaliation and pressure from activists to refrain from political participation. The issue remains far from settled, but this week’s victory marks an important victory in the name of free speech and private association.