This message, featured in our Fall 2007 edition of Impact is adapted from Joseph G. Lehman’s response to "anonymous," an Internet user who questioned our policy of donor privacy. – Ed.
It’s a bit ironic that someone who signs his name "anonymous" is asking the identity of Mackinac Center supporters.
Yet I don’t begrudge "anonymous" the safety of shielding his name. He’s firmly within his First Amendment rights, which were codified to protect political speech. "Anonymous" obviously finds it important to inject his own ideas into public debate without revealing his identity. I bet we agree on other things, too.
All of our supporters share a commitment to free enterprise principles. We respect our friends who let us publicly thank them, and we respect the wishes of supporters who prefer the same privacy claimed by "anonymous."
We’re proud of our friends. Our lobby — the most public place in our building — is adorned with the names of key supporters. Our quarterly newsletter — publicly available online — features articles about great folks who support our work. Our educational forums — open to the public — are attended by supporters. Charitable foundations list Mackinac Center gifts in public documents. Each of our directors support us — their names are listed inside each study we publish.
We’ve attracted broad support. Last year, 62 percent of our contributions came from foundations, 24 percent from individuals and 14 percent from businesses. All of our support is voluntary, which is something that can’t be said by tax-funded groups or labor unions that say "give us dues, or we’ll get you fired."
"Anonymous" might be one to march down to the local Salvation Army, Greenpeace office or other charity and demand names of donors. But I wonder if he would show his checkbook register to anyone who demanded to know how much "anonymous" donates to the organizations that share his goals.
In 2002, the Michigan Education Association sued the Mackinac Center, demanding a fundraising list. The union and its then-president, Luigi Battaglieri, were unhappy that we quoted Mr. Battaglieri telling reporters, "Frankly, I admire what they [the Mackinac Center] have done."
Our attorneys at the Institute for Justice likened the MEA’s bullying tactics to those of southern segregationists in a notorious 1958 case of donor intimidation (NAACP v. Alabama). Powerful interests wanted to pressure NAACP donors, but first they had to discover their names. The U.S. Supreme Court protected the donors’ privacy.
Likewise, a Michigan court threw out the MEA’s lawsuit, citing our First Amendment rights. The union could not use our list to intimidate our friends. It got a dose of national scorn and ridicule instead.
We welcome scrutiny of everything we publish. The best way to judge our research is through rigorous critique. But not everyone will challenge our work on its merits — some people resort to name-calling, conjure up conspiracy theories or attack our supporters. Because of that sort of "critic," we are thankful for our First Amendment rights while remaining mindful of theirs, even if they remain "anonymous."
Joseph G. Lehman is executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.