The Victims of “Dark Money” Disclosure
Anonymous political speech has been essential to democratic discourse since the founding of our republic. Debates over whether to ratify the U.S. Constitution were primarily conducted through a series of anonymous papers. Yet in recent years, anonymous political speech has been under attack by so-called “dark money” critics, who demand that government expose the identities of individuals, businesses, labor unions, and nonprofits that spend money to participate in political dialogue. Couched as “transparency” measures, “dark money” disclosure mandates are often used as excuses to silence disfavored speech. Troublingly, mandated disclosure of private donors is sweeping the country in the form of vague and overbroad regulations of nonprofit organizations that operate in nearly every sector and industry and represent views across the political spectrum. These mandates have diluted political dialogue, invited harassment and retaliation against speakers, and chilled speech and association. Although the Constitution protects political and private associations against compelled disclosure, federal courts have often failed to enforce those protections. Liberty advocates should fight for greater constitutional protection of free speech and association rights, both in court and in state laws that regulate spending on political issues.