Senate Democrats are again making noise about the so-called DISCLOSE Act, S. 2219, legislation that would force non-profit advocacy organizations to disclose their donors if they criticize elected officials. The bill has support from 44 Democratic senators and may be brought up for a vote in the next couple of weeks. Proponents will offer high-minded talk of democracy and transparency, but what they really want to do is intimidate and suppress their political enemies.
The Obama campaign has launched personal attacks against known donors to the Romney campaign, in what amounts to an enemies list. Obama's IRS has leaked the confidential donor list of the National Organization for Marriage.
In this environment, forced disclosure would not only chill political speech, but could also expose people who engage in the political process to coercion, intimidation, and violence.
The most instructive example of this dark side of disclosure is the left's ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
ALEC is rare among public policy nonprofits - on the left or right -in that it generally discloses its donors, who openly participate in a transparent process of developing model free-market legislation for the state legislators who are its members. Yet the proponents of forced donor disclosure for non-profits don't cheer ALEC for its disclosure; they exploit it as a weakness.
Led by Common Cause and the racial-grievance group Color of Change, which was founded by avowed communist, 9/11 truther, and disgraced former Obama green jobs czar Anthony K. "Van" Jones, left-wing agitators have bullied dozens of companies into pulling their support for ALEC.
The bullies have admitted they are manipulating a tragic death to silence their political opponents. "The Trayvon Martin thing was like a gift," one of the organizers said.
These attacks falsely assume that there is something improper about companies that thrive in a free-market system investing a small amount of their profits to protect that system. In fact, the opposite is true; most companies are far too concerned with lobbying for short-term advantage through government regulations, spending, and special favors that help them in the short term while imperiling their long-term success.
But in the face of an orchestrated campaign of intimidation, companies find it easier to appease the agitators and retreat than to stand and fight.
The most recent companies to cave to the anti-ALEC bullies were Amazon and Wal-Mart (urge them to reconsider at www.ALECPetition.com), iconic free-market success stories. Companies desperately need to hear from supporters of free-markets that they should not cave to these bullies.
If Democrats succeed in passing the DISCLOSE Act, the bullies who are hounding ALEC will be unleashed on every organization that promotes free markets and limited government - attacking corporate and individual donors with protests, threats, boycotts and all the rest. Contributing to an organization that supports the free market will mean opening yourself up to attacks from the left.
The Supreme Court has upheld the right of groups to protect the privacy of their donors, and it wasn't in the Citizens United decision that Democrats keep talking about. It was NAACP v. Alabama in 1958, which found that membership organizations have a right to protect the anonymity of their supporters because forced disclosure would risk retribution that could chill their free speech rights.
The attacks on ALEC expose the real agenda behind the DISCLOSE Act, which is to force proponents of economic freedom to identify themselves and be subject to harassment and intimidation. Congress should reject it.
Phil Kerpen is president of American Commitment, a columnist on Fox News Opinion, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of the 2011 book Democracy Denied.
American Commitment is dedicated to restoring and protecting America’s core commitment to free markets, economic growth, Constitutionally-limited government, property rights, and individual freedom.
Washingtonian magazine named Mr. Kerpen to their "Guest List" in 2008 and The Hill newspaper named Mr. Kerpen a "Top Grassroots Lobbyist" in 2011.
Mr. Kerpen's op-eds have run in newspapers across the country and he is a frequent radio and television commentator on economic growth issues.
Prior to joining American Commitment, Mr. Kerpen served as vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity. Mr. Kerpen has also previously worked as an analyst and researcher for the Free Enterprise Fund, the Club for Growth, and the Cato Institute.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Kerpen currently resides in Washington, D.C. with his wife Joanna and their daughter Lilly.
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