Why did the state of Alabama, back in 1956, want to know so much about those contributing money to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People?
Why did the state court slap the NAACP with a $100,000 contempt fine for refusing to turn over its membership list as demanded by the government?
Was it a high-minded desire for the public to have more information? Or was this an attempt to acquire an enemies list for waging a war of threats and intimidation against supporters of civil rights?
Does it matter? Had the motives of the ’Bama government been found to be wonderfully wholesome, but the result was the silencing of voices — for civil rights or any other cause — it would still have been bad policy. Extremely bad, because it thwarts what is so essential to our freedom: unhampered political discourse.
Yet today, nearly every voice in politics, pretty much across the spectrum, calls for “full disclosure.” Information is a good thing. I, too, like disclosure. In fact, I called for it just a few weeks ago. From government. Not from the people. Why? The relationship between the people and their government shouldn’t be equal.
You Aren’t Paranoid If They Are Out To Get You
I learned a few things while working to place term limits on politicians. Often a supporter would ask if a donation would be publicly disclosed, adding, “I don’t need every regulator and politician in the state out to get me.” The fear of political retaliation among contributors was real. And having worked around politicians, I knew this fear to be well founded.
I’m not a lone voice; others have also cried out about the dangers of forced disclosure. Just last week, the folks at the Institute for Justice, heroes in the battle against eminent domain abuse, released a public opinion study that sheds great light on the public’s desire for and fear of the legally mandated disclosure of campaign contributions.