Defending Basic Freedoms

Our basic Constitutional right to free association in Texas may be delivered a terrible blow if SB 346 and SB 219 are signed into law. These two bills would curb the rights of Texans who support organizations dedicated to changing and improving our state. Here are the facts:

  • America has a long tradition of anonymous political speech with the Federalist Papers being among the most prominent.
  • Without anonymity of donors, and anonymity of members, Americans banding together for a cause are susceptible to harassment, intimidation, or worse.
  • What is billed as transparency in SB 346 and SB 219 is instead an effort to silence Texans who dare speak up to their elected officials.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has frequently observed – most notably in NAACP v. Alabama – that forcing organizations to identify their donors and members violates their constitutional rights.
  • We are seeing the effects of similar IRS policy coming out of Washington D.C., so we cannot allow the Texas government to tread the same path.
  • Once the precedent is established that a 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) must disclose its members and supporters, it will only be a matter of time before other groups who displease the government are compelled to do the same.

Stand with us against this policy of governmental intimidation - and help us defend our Constitutional rights.

Read TPPF President Brooke Rollins' explanation of just how this proposed policy threatens us and our freedoms.

Defending Basic Freedoms in Texas : The Case Against SB 346 and SB 219.

By Brooke Rollins

Fifty-five years ago, the segregationist state government in Alabama decided to strike a blow at the Civil Rights movement, and demanded that the state’s NAACP disclose its membership list. The organization refused, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1958’s NAACP v. Alabama, the Court, citing "the deterrent effect on the free enjoyment of the right to associate which disclosure of petitioner's membership lists is likely to have," affirmed that "[f]reedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the 'liberty' assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." 

In other words: anonymity of donors, and anonymity of members, was rightly held to be an indispensable mechanism of our most basic freedoms. Without it, Americans banding together for a cause were susceptible to harassment, intimidation, or worse — and that is surely what old Alabama intended.

Back then, it was the segregationists of the old South who threatened this principle. Today, the threat emanates from our governing elites who must pay lip service to democratic self-rule — but don’t necessarily much like it. We see it in Washington, D.C., as appalling stories of malfeasance emerge seemingly daily from the Internal Revenue Service and other organs of the federal government.

And we may soon see it in Texas, if SB 219 or SB 346 become law. A Wall Street Journal unsigned editorial this past weekend expressed profound concern about the bills, and with good reason.

On May 21 in the Dallas Morning News, the legislative author described the bills — which are functionally similar — thus: “Last week, the House passed a measure that would require nonprofits that spend more than $25,000 on campaign activity to disclose contributors who donate $1,000 or more.” The author declares himself unhappy with a particular Texas 501(c)(4) organization, and unhappy that many of his colleagues are influenced by it. In an effort to silence this one voice, the Texas Legislature has passed SB 346 and also amended the same provisions to SB 219, casting a wide net.

Should either bill become law, the effects will reach far beyond that one organization — and the harm to Texas democracy will be profound.

For decades, organizations as diverse as the Texas Farm Bureau, Sierra Club, Texas Right to Life, Campaign for the Environment, Young Conservatives of Texas, and the League of Women Voters — among countless others — have made known to the legislature their position on bills. Some participate in elections; others do not. Some produce scorecards of legislators’ votes; others do not. But all are issue advocates.

Most important, all are authentic representatives of certain sets of Texans, each of whom has the self-evident right to participate in the public square as he or she sees fit.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation and our sister organization, Texas Public Policy Action, do not participate in candidate campaigns or produce scorecards. Our mission is to provide research on public policy, and provide recommendations based on principles of free markets and limited government. As a 501(c)(3), the Foundation is not captured by the provisions of SB 346 or SB 219. However, as a 501(c)(4), Texas Public Policy Action could be should they decide to become involved in issue campaigns.

But in a larger sense, it doesn’t matter whether either TPPF or TPPA are immediately affected by SB 346 or SB 219. Once the precedent is established that a 501(c)(4) is subject to forced donor disclosure, it’s only a matter of time before 501(c)(3) organizations that similarly displease elected officeholders are compelled to do the same — and other civil-society organizations will not be exempt or immune.

If the IRS scandal underway in Washington, D.C., has taught us anything, it’s that these are no idle fears. Our Foundation knows this firsthand: the IRS illegally released our own donor information in spring 2012.

The bottom line is this: in SB 346 and SB 219, what is billed as transparency is instead an effort to silence Texans who dare to speak up to their elected officials. After the 2011 Texas state budget debate, one state senator bemoaned the outside groups that influenced the legislature to pass an appropriations bill that lived within available revenue and without raising taxes. The governing class has no intention of allowing a repeat performance.

It is said, “When the government fears the people, there is liberty; but when the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Silencing the people, and causing them to fear the government, is the inevitable result of these bills — and their obvious intent. The fiction of “transparency” neither masks nor alleviates that truth. Those seeking to use the force of government to pry open the workings of citizens’ groups are inheritors of a malign tradition that hails from the old segregationists to the excesses of the Obama Administration.

And those opposing the likes of SB 346 and 219 are inheritors of a tradition that runs from the American Founding itself. It is that simple, and that stark — and that is why these bills must not become law.

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