The Obama administration and its progressive soldiers seem to know no bounds when it comes to seeking political advantage by limiting speech. The Wall Street Journal put it well: “The Obama administration is moving to rein in the influence of tax-exempt groups in elections by creating rules to restrict their spending on a wide range of campaign-related activities.”
President Obama and progressives purportedly have an interest in democracy and amplifying the voice of each citizen, but the latest changes being proposed to how 501(c)(4) organizations can operate in or near elections is a direct threat to electoral freedom.
One of the benefits of a 501(c)(4) designation is to give certain protections to an organization and its donors. It is unsurprising, then, to hear the Obama administration taking aim at these organizations and their privileges. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the IRS was taking aim at conservative non-profit groups. While the administration claims the new rules are simply an attempt to regulate the field, it is a change that will do no less than hobble their political opponents.
For example, a non-profit group that spends all year working on a set of issues and then distributes literature about how candidates stand on those issues could be risking their tax-exempt status and therefore their very existence depending on how many people they reach and what percentage of their activities takes place within 30 days of a primary election or within 60 days of a general election.
But wouldn’t many or most voters prefer to know how their Member in Congress voted regarding the Affordable Care Act? The new rule would expand the current understanding of “political activity” to include any communications that reach more than 500 people and mention the name of any candidate.
A 501(c)(4) does not have to list its donors publicly, and for a very traditional reason that protects financial supporters and their livelihoods. The PBS program Frontline adds this important history about the donor shield “That stems from the landmark 1958 Supreme Court case, NAACP v. Alabama, which held the NAACP didn’t have to identify its members because disclosure could lead to harassment.”
When donations are not only publicly available, but publicized, we risk people being discriminated against or even punished for their political views. Ask those brave souls fighting for civil rights in Alabama in 1959. Fast forward to today, many Mormons who donated to the Proposition 8 campaign in California were persecuted, some lost their jobs or saw their businesses targeted, faced unfair scrutiny from the press, or even feared for their safety simply because they sought to participate in the democratic process. The new changes being proposed to how 501(C)(4)s are treated will result in more instances of discrimination and retribution for the political views of private citizens.
Progressives desperately want to muzzle opposition. To them, freedom of speech is a statement as trite as a telemarketer making a cold call and saying, “How are you?” They don’t really care if you are okay and progressives really don’t care about freedom of speech if it doesn’t meet their criteria of approved-group-think and it prevents them from gaining a political upper hand. That is why Obama and his liberal friends don’t understand the term “bi-partisan.” They think it simply means to accept what they want or say without question.
This is the new strategy that progressives and so-called “good government” groups are going to play, so conservatives and libertarians had better find a way to fight back. Getting their act together and both recruiting and retaining small and individual donors on a much larger scale would best serve Republicans and their conservative and libertarian allies. This will take planning, messaging and methodical implementation. Democrats and progressives are in campaign mode 24/7, 365 days a year; that is why unions are so valuable to Democrat elections.
Furthermore, conservative groups that would be impacted by this change should look to fight these initiatives tooth and nail. Their very existence and influence is being targeted. The goal is universal donor disclosure, which Obama and his allies hope to use to bully and silence their opposition. This isn’t about good government or creating a level electoral playing field; it is about limiting opposition to their baby steps and giant strides to their progressive utopia.
Going on the offense is critical here. One brainstorm idea will be to press for federal and state legislation that will protect the economic interest of both donors. This means if a company faces a backlash for its political views, perhaps they should be able to seek economic or civil damages in court.
Certainly, if a company is required to disclose certain previously private donations to an organization and then finds its stores vandalized because of their political views, someone owes them retribution for the outrageous decision that put their financial bottom line at risk. The same applies to individuals, trusts, or associations, which often make up a large percentage of the funds that are raised for these social welfare groups.
This is not a fight that can be ignored or allowed to be made into law without mention. Conservatives, libertarians, and any advocate for the rights of citizens and for participatory democracy should oppose these proposed rule changes, understand they are being targeted for destruction and do whatever they can to ensure they are not implemented.