Watchdogs Urge FEC to Reject Tea Party Group Request for Donor Disclosure Exemption Originally Granted to NAACP in Jim Crow South


Today, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed comments in response to a Federal Election Commission (FEC) Advisory Opinion Request (AOR) 2013-17 from the Tea Party Leadership Fund, an FEC-registered political committee, seeking an exemption from the federal law requirement that it disclose its donors based on its claim that doing so “would result in threats, harassment, or reprisals from government officials or private parties.”

Such exemptions are extremely rare. The precedent was set by a 1958 Supreme Court decision prohibiting the state of Alabama from compelling the NAACP to disclose its membership list at a time when members of the civil rights organization faced grave dangers in southern states. The exemption has also been extended over the years to communist and socialist organizations dating back to the Cold War.

The “evidence” presented to the FEC by the Tea Party Leadership Fund consists of little more than public and private criticism of the Tea Party movement, IRS scrutiny of Tea Party organizations’ applications for tax-exempt status, and suspicions that the group may have been under surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies based, for example, on a report advising law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for “rightwing extremist activity, specifically the white supremacist and militia movements.”

“To compare public criticisms of the Tea Party with the tragic bombings, killings, beatings and cross burnings suffered by members of the NAACP in the Jim Crow South is simply disgraceful and shows a complete lack of respect for the dangers and sufferings of the civil rights movement,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “If a stack of press clippings showing politicians criticizing the actions of the Tea Party movement were to be deemed sufficient for this exemption, then by extension any group could qualify, from mom and pop organizations all the way up to the national Democratic and Republican parties. The Supreme Court has been unwavering for decades in finding by overwhelming margins that the constitutional standard for such an exemption is extremely narrow. As Justice Scalia wrote in a 2010 ‘[r]equiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.’”

To read the comments filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.