For a state that takes pride in the individualistic roots of its history, it’s puzzling that the Texas legislature would consider passing a law that infringes upon the right to free speech. The state legislature, which has Republican majorities in both houses, has passed a law mandating that “non-profit organizations and trade associations to disclose the names of the people who support them financially. The law exempts unions, but covers groups that spend more than $25,000 or more in independent expenditures about political candidates. This applies even if those expenditures are a tiny fraction of the group’s overall spending,” according to Ammon Simon at National Review.
This development comes during the IRS scandal that is plaguing the Obama administration, and conservatives ought to be furious that Republicans are dabbling in this nonsense. Simon’s piece, which was published on May 17, noted that:
[I]f Texas legislators had first consulted the Constitution, they would have rejected forced disclosure as a violation of the First Amendment. The Constitution protects organizations from forced disclosure of their members (NAACP v. Alabama, 1958), and does not distinguish between an organization’s members, as with NAACP, and its contributors, as here (Buckley v. Valeo, 1976).
This unconstitutional legislation directly targets those issue-based groups — a 501(c)(4)’s primary purpose is explicitly non-political — and I would expect the First Amendment–friendly Roberts court to agree.
This law would also have a chilling effect on issue-based donors, whose opponents could drag them through the mud for their contributions. Even the current disclosure system is costly for donors. As Brad Smith explains, compelled disclosure of political donations was especially damaging to financial backers of Proposition 8, California’s traditional-marriage ballot initiative. Some donors lost their jobs while others suffered boycotts of their businesses for defending traditional marriage. Elsewhere, in August of 2008, “a liberal group called Accountable America used compulsory disclosure data to send letters to nearly 10,000 prominent conservative donors, threatening publication of their names and, in the words of the New York Times, ‘digging through their lives’ if they continued their financial support.”
Yet, it’s not a total loss. Gov. Perry did veto the bill on May 25, and stated in a press release:
Freedom of association and freedom of speech are two of our most important rights enshrined in the Constitution. My fear is that SB 346 would have a chilling effect on both of those rights in our democratic political process. While regulation is necessary in the administration of Texas political finance laws, no regulation is tolerable that puts anyone’s participation at risk or that can be used by any government, organization or individual to intimidate those who choose to participate in our process through financial means.”
“At a time when our federal government is assaulting the rights of Americans by using the tools of government to squelch dissent it is unconscionable to expose more Texans to the risk of such harassment, regardless of political, organizational or party affiliation. I therefore veto SB 346.
It seems that Perry has remained faithful to his position that contribution limits for political campaigns were unconstitutional. Yet, it just shows that even Republicans can pass horrendous pieces of legislation, and that conservatives should always be skeptical of folks on both sides of the aisle. For now, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) doesn’t see enough votes to override Perry’s veto. Then again, that’s after he said the governor’s veto legalized “money laundering.”