Political action committees can still function under the ruling, but PACs must provide lists of contributors to anyone interested. Hentoff reminds me of the 1958 NAACP vs. Alabama case in which the state sued the civil rights organization to stop it from conducting activities in Alabama on grounds that it had failed to comply with the requirement that "foreign corporations" register before doing business in the state. During the proceedings, Alabama requested the NAACP produce a large number of its records. The organization did so but held back its membership lists. The Alabama court found the NAACP in contempt and imposed a large fine.
In its opinion overturning the state court ruling, Supreme Court Justice John Harlan wrote, "Effective advocacy of both public and private points of view, particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association as this Court has more than once recognized by remarking upon the close nexus between the freedoms of speech and assembly. ." Justice Harlan then said something that could serve as a stern rebuke to the five members of the current Court who have effectively diminished the freedom of political speech: "In the domain of these indispensable liberties, whether of speech, press or association, the decisions of this Court recognize the abridgement of such rights, even though unintended, may inevitably follow from varied forms of governmental action. ."
This Supreme Court has made the "indispensable" dispensable. It has also guaranteed that incumbents will have an easier time preserving themselves in office and that challengers will be further limited in having their voices and ideas heard. This is a loss for both parties and all persuasions. It will also diminish the political vitality of the nation.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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