After failing last year to qualify a measure forcing disclosure of contributions to non-profit organizations and eliminating donor privacy, Terry Goddard is back peddling a revised iteration of “Outlaw Dirty Money.” This time dubbed “The Voters Right to Know Amendment,” the proposal would change the Arizona Constitution to require the disclosure of the “original source” of all major contributions used to “influence Arizona elections.”
Major contributions are defined as $5,000 or more in a single campaign, $20,000 for statewide campaigns or $10,000 for all other campaigns in an election cycle.
The issue is easy to speak to on a superficial level – convincing voters they have “a right” to know who is spending in elections sounds appealing to people on the left and the right of the political spectrum. However, lying just below the surface are insidious motivations and consequences.
Coerced disclosure Encourages Government Corruption
Predating the drumbeat for private non-profits to publicly out the individuals who support them, there has existed extensive campaign finance laws aimed to disclose the financial support candidates receive who are running for public office. Money candidates directly receive is treated differently than organizations because elected officials who are a part of the government have a duty to reveal potential financial conflicts of interest. More importantly, laws already exist against corruption such as quid pro quos, bribes, and financial fraud. These are the appropriate laws that keep politicians honest. These are the laws that effectively weeded out 7 Arizona lawmakers in the infamous 1991 AZSCAM scandal.
In contrast, individuals freely and privately associating with organizations that share their common beliefs and want to share their views with voters is not corruption. It is free speech.
And protecting this right is important given the track record of harassment and intimidation directed toward individuals attempting to exercise their 1st amendment rights. This isn’t a theoretical argument; there are several documented cases of private citizens being targeted for supporting a cause or organization. One such example occurred 61 years ago under National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) vs the State of Alabama. In this case the state was arguing they had “a right” to the membership list of the NAACP to determine if the organization was doing business in the state. In the tumultuous throws of segregation, the true purpose was for the government to create an “enemies list” of financial contributors by which they could exert their coercive power and intimidate members into abandoning the cause.
More recently, in 2015 the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting every citizens’ First Amendment right by determining a three year investigation by the state into conservative groups was illegal. In the commonly dubbed “John Doe” investigation, government regulators gnashing for names of their political enemies actually ambushed non-profit leaders in the early dawn hours at their homes, crashing into rooms where children slept in an effort to find donor lists.
This is why transparency is only a virtue when applied to government and privacy is a virtue when applied to citizens. That’s why public record laws only apply to government and not private citizens. Though the proponents of Goddard’s proposal strive to confuse voters with seedy sounding language like “dark money,” they cannot point to a single instance where knowing which individuals support what political speech led to the uncovering of a violation of law or “corruption”. HOWEVER, there are masses of real-life examples of similar disclosure laws being used to attack, intimidate, and compel private citizens.
Goddard’s Initiative Doesn’t Know What Laundering Means
Lastly, the “Voters Right to Know Amendment” falsely equivocates laundering with the innocent and lawful act of individuals giving money to non-profits and organizations with which they align. As an attorney, Goddard should know money laundering (which rightfully so is already a crime), involves concealing money obtained illegally by transferring it through legitimate businesses. This is an attempt by Goddard to implicate honest individuals with a constitutional right to spend their money however they like without the scrutiny of government. Imagining every private citizen donor as a potential criminal with nefarious intentions is just wrong. Not to mention criminalizing anonymous speech is a perversion of justice – there are no victims in non-disclosure– only victims when the right to privacy is violated.
At the end of the day, initiative’s like Goddard’s are a dangerous threat to every citizen’s right to privacy, free speech and association. It concentrates more power into the hands of the government and erodes some of our most basic democratic principles. Proponents have flimsy intellectual arguments and catchy rhetoric – but behind them is government target list and a loaded gun. Hopefully, their third attempt to fool voters is equally unsuccessful.