Democrats once again control the House, Nancy Pelosi is once again Speaker, and I, once again, feel as if I’m living in George Orwell’s 1984, where war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.
How else to explain my feelings over the “openness” and “transparency” that will be enhanced by passage of H.R. 1, the Democrats’ brazenly named “For the People Act,” which seeks to take legitimate, protected legislative speech and turn it into “political” speech subject to onerous and burdensome regulation?
Campaigns and PACs already must disclose every dollar raised and every dollar spent trying to influence the outcome of political campaigns. This “political” speech is already highly regulated. H.R. 1 is not going to make them disclose more, because they already disclose.
So, H.R. 1 is not going after “money in politics,” because we already disclose money in politics.
Instead, this bill is designed to intimidate, harass, and silence people for exercising their First Amendment rights on issues before the Congress. Exercising our First Amendment rights on issues is not – and should not be – considered political activity. That is free speech as defined in the First Amendment. It is speaking, assembling, and petitioning government for redress of grievances. That “legislative” speech, if you will, is protected and enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
I know firsthand why it must be protected, because of the IRS targeting of “tea party” and “patriots” groups that began in 2010. Sadly, I am not the first to understand and know why the freedom of association must be protected. The Supreme Court upheld it in 1958, when the state of Alabama was targeting members of the NAACP. It was wrong in the 1950s, it was wrong in the 2010s, and it will continue to be wrong in the future.
This suppression of speech is not unfamiliar in our country. It has happened many times. It is why the Founding Fathers protected the right to free speech to begin with. What happened to us is just a modern-day example of the chilling effect burdensome regulations have on free speech.
I’ve witnessed first-hand and at great pain what can come of “donor disclosure,” “openness,” and “transparency” – harassment, persecution, discrimination, and intimidation, for starters. Personal audits of donors to disfavored groups. Requests for lists of books and magazine articles read and discussed at meetings, demands even for the content of prayers offered.
And it’s not just the content of the demands that are so offensive (though they truly are). It’s the quantity of the demands. It’s the use by the bureaucracy of their advantage in sheer manpower over citizen groups. Can you imagine how many thousands of man-hours were required to be devoted to filling out forms in response to those demands? I don’t have to imagine, because I know. For my group alone, answering the unconstitutional and illegal demands foisted on us by the IRS bureaucracy cost us almost 5,000 man-hours. And we were just one tea party group. Now multiply that across hundreds of similar groups that were similarly targeted and think of the burden imposed. In many cases, it was enough to break the backs of small groups and force them to shut down – exactly what our IRS adversaries wanted.
That’s what happened to tea party groups like ours when we simply followed the law as we understood it and applied to the Internal Revenue Service for designation as charitable non-profit organizations. For years we were stonewalled, targeted for our political beliefs, and discriminated against.
What if people lost their jobs for how they think politically, or were harassed and intimidated by the public, in addition to being scared by the government into not donating? That can happen, has happened, and we have every reason to believe it will happen again — especially if H.R. 1 becomes law. Today it may be people you hate, people you attack, who are on the short end of the stick. But what happens if and when the tables are reversed in the future, and they attack you? It is wrong in either case. I would not wish what happened to us on our worst enemy.
No one ever went to jail for that unconstitutional and illegal harassment against us. Heck, no one was even prosecuted.
Now, along comes H.R. 1, which contains language that essentially codifies what the IRS did to us.
This law has been misnamed – it should be called The Lois Lerner Tribute Act.
What happened to tea party groups at the hands of the IRS was wrong. We shouldn’t make it easier for that kind of thing to happen again by turning protected “legislative” speech into regulated “political” speech.” In this area, experience teaches us that less donor disclosure, not more, is the better path to guaranteeing protection of our constitutional freedoms.
Jenny Beth Martin is Honorary Chairman of Tea Party Patriots Action.