Part II: Would Campaign Finance Transparency Result in Donor Bullying?


The argument by conservatives (who once espoused disclosure) that disclosure now should be opposed because it could subject high-profile donors to bullying and harassment is not only hypocritical, it’s disgraceful.

Exemptions from disclosure in campaign finance matters only applies when disclosure would not only place group members in peril, but would imperil the group’s very existence.  One group that successfully sought exemption from disclosure requirements was the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).  At the time it first sought exemption, the SWP had just 60 members, and supported its claim for exemption from disclosure requirements with evidence of widespread and “ingrained” societal hostility.  In granting an exemption, the Court emphasized the extensive “past history of government harassment,” including “massive” surveillance efforts by the FBI and other government agencies.  The NAACP made a similarly compelling and uncontroverted showing that disclosing the identities of rank-and-file members exposed them to “economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility.”  The NAACP’s brief to the US Supreme Court to block disclosure of their membership lists in Alabama contained extensive evidence of violent acts—including bombings, shootings, cross-burnings, and other “manifestations of public hostility.”

Conservatives trying to compare themselves with the same kind of intimidation and harassment faced by the SWP and NAACP should be ashamed of themselves.   They have offered no evidence of past or present harassment of group members, harassment directed against the organization itself, or any pattern of threats or specific manifestations of public hostility.  What they really want to do is try and control the outcome of our elections and to do so hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism.  As Justice Scalia correctly noted just a few years ago in rejecting similar efforts to block disclosure, “this does not resemble the Home of the Brave.”

This opinion piece by Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert originally appeared in Politico's Arena on June 26, 2012.