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Transparency is for government, privacy is for people

Transparency is for government, privacy is for people

by Jon Caldara

On Nov. 27, 2015, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., a self-described “warrior for the babies,” arrived at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood armed with a semi-automatic rifle. By the time the police had him in custody, he had killed three and injured nine.

So, here’s a question worth pondering. How much worse could it have been if before this violent mad man decided to kill, he knew the names and addresses of the donors to the clinic?

Is it possible that being able to anonymously support a cause, particularly a controversial one, saves lives? History shows it’s not a hypothetical question.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations. Founded in 1909, they called for federal anti-lynching laws, set the case for the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, and lobbied for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

They have also been targets of violent threats and attacks. Stories like that of Medgar Evers, the famed civil rights activist and field secretary for the NAACP who was murdered after his fight to desegregate the University of Mississippi, is just one of too many examples.

It doesn’t take a lot to imagine why the NAACP has always fought to keep its donors, those who make their very work possible, private. If segregationists could scare away the NAACP’s supporters by the threat of intimidation and violence, their operations would be ripped away at its root.

In the mid-1950’s the state government of Alabama hoped to intimidate and frighten away the NAACP by forcing them to make public their list of donors. The NAACP fought it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, letting them to keep their donors private, and safe, therefore keeping their movement alive.

Organizations across the political spectrum, including Planned Parenthood, owe them for their bravery and the safety that has grown out of it

You’d think this issue would be clear and settled by now, but there seems to be a basic misunderstanding of what transparency is in a system like ours.

Transparency is for government. Privacy is for people.

For 18 years I have run that beacon of political incorrectness, the free-market-loving Independence Institute. And it is near sinful how much fun we have working to make Colorado a place where we are free to make our own decisions. While I can’t imagine what groups like the NAACP went through, we too never disclose our supporters, even though we’ve been brought to court several times by political foes who think they have a right “get at” our donors.

From public school teachers who fear retribution from the teachers unions to businesspeople who need to survive their dealings with Colorado’s 3,700 governments, we believe our supporters should be guaranteed privacy.

We also feel that groups like ours shouldn’t lose our right to free speech because of it. But sadly, that’s what campaign finance laws do.

In 2014 we wanted to run a radio ad asking both of Colorado’s U.S. senators to support a bill reforming federal sentencing laws. But because it was “too close” to the election and one of those senators, Mark Udall, happened to be on the ballot, campaign finance laws stopped us, even though we weren’t weighing in on the election in the slightest. According to the McCain-Feingold Act, if we ran the ad, we’d have to disclose our donors.

No one’s right to speak should be subservient to a calendar. If we have a right to say something on Monday, without making our supporters vulnerable, shouldn’t we have the same right to say the same thing on Tuesday? So off to court we went.

Sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear our case, that one empty seat on the court almost certainly being the reason the court didn’t have the votes to consider it. Hopefully with a full court the issue will be resolved in the future.

From Cato’s Letters to pamphlets written under pen names, anonymous speech played a key role in our nation’s birth.  It is no less important today.

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, March 18, 2017.