When a corporate political action committee makes a campaign donation to a candidate or party, it is required to report those donations to the Federal Election Commission. Most would agree that is as it should be. Now the acting chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission proposes to require businesses to disclose their contributions to think tanks, trade groups and other advocacy or public policy organizations that speak out on issues.
Just as Protect The 1st is concerned about individuals being harassed for their speech and contributions, so, too, are we concerned about harassment of businesses that exercise their right to speech. One need only have a passing acquaintance with the news to see how just the threat of boycotts, cancellations, and “doxing” of individual executives could chill the First Amendment rights of businesses. Two decades ago, the executives and their spouses of a medical research company in the United Kingdom were viciously attacked, both in terms of reputation (some were publicly advertised as prostitutes, with their home addresses given out) and physically beaten after being doxed by extreme animal rights activists.
The world has not become any kinder since that happened.
The SEC proposal is part of a wave of attempts to control or punish speech. H.R. 1, now before the Senate, has some donor reporting requirements that would place organizations at risk of speech-chilling actions by those opposed to their views. The Supreme Court is now reviewing the supposedly confidential donor reporting requirements of the California Attorney General, despite a history of that office suffering massive data breaches.
The rationale of the U.S. Supreme Court in protecting the privacy – and thus, safety – of supporters of the NAACP should extend to everyone. Privacy protects speech. If we erode the First Amendment rights of corporate executives, don’t be surprised if we start to see erosion in protections for the rest of us.