We Americans have long enjoyed the right to financially support our favored causes. Whether our favorite voluntary association is a food bank, church or public policy organization, we value their work to build social capital. Concomitant with the ability to donate one’s resources is the right to do so privately, without the scrutiny of government regulators.
A loud and insistent movement seeks to force all private giving into the public eye. Complaints about “dark money” and the “undue influence of money” inflame concern, but these attacks are designed to squash thoughtful debate about how we should govern ourselves.
The enemies of debate would require individuals report charitable giving: personal information, donation amounts and the names of organizations would be recorded in a government database, available to employers, neighbors and political operatives, not to mention all branches of government.
Political retribution is one consequence of the forced disclosure of one’s private views; polarization is easier than persuasion. A maze of punitive regulations can also be used to stifle speech. Concerns about government surveillance, perhaps once dismissed as paranoid, have been validated by the misdeeds of the IRS and NSA.
Examples of overreaching regulation and retribution abound:
Using the arm of the State to squash debate isn’t new; in the 1950s, officials in Alabama sought to put the NAACP out of business by suing to obtain its membership list. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right of free association protected the NAACP from such demands.
Enemies of debate like to conflate government transparency and private giving. The decisions and actions of government agencies should be open for review. It is quite another matter, however, for government to require the disclosure of private views and donations.
Let’s celebrate — not penalize — the decision of individuals to support causes and improve their communities.