George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

Orlando Sen⁠t⁠⁠i⁠nel: C⁠i⁠⁠t⁠⁠i⁠zens deserve a safe haven for ⁠t⁠he⁠i⁠r pr⁠i⁠va⁠t⁠e v⁠i⁠ewpo⁠i⁠n⁠t⁠s

By: The James Madison Institute / 2013

By Robert F. Sanchez, Guest columnistAs CSPAN proves, government can be boring, and that’s OK. Yet you probably don’t want our government to engage in a different kind of boring: drilling into your brain to see what’s on your mind.Of course, as the Internal Revenue Service scandal illustrates, you don’t have to be paranoid to worry about government prying into every aspect of your life. Fortunately, however, the government’s snoops haven’t yet figured out how to read our minds.Granted, Big Brother can learn a lot about us via other means. Indeed, many folks reveal a lot about their worldview through the causes and candidates they back, the groups they join, and the things they say in public forums or reveal on Facebook.For others, though, going public with their thoughts can be risky, especially at a time when governments blatantly engage in crony capitalism, repeatedly throwing their weight around to pick winners and losers.In this easily corruptible model of a society, people no longer achieve success solely by offering a better product, service or idea. Instead, they push for laws, rules and regulations favoring their own interests and undercutting their rivals.In this environment, shouldn’t we preserve at least one safe haven where individuals, groups and businesses that are devoted to particular political, ideological or religious viewpoints may get together to support them without a fear of reprisals?Actually, there is such a place, though it’s under attack. Donors to groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code may remain anonymous without forfeiting their First Amendment right to engage in great policy debates — as long as the group’s primary activity isn’t explicitly political.This arrangement has received lots of attention lately because of the scandal in which the IRS harassed conservatives applying for 501(c) (4) status. That investigation continues.Meanwhile, Big Brother is annoyed that deep-pocketed secret donors fund some of these 501(c)(4) groups. His snoops evidently have a burning desire to know what’s on the mind of anyone who might dare to engage in the battle of ideas.For Big Brother, it’s not enough that gifts to political candidates must be reported. Neither is it enough that the IRS also learns of gifts to nonprofits organized under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. Those tax-deductible gifts are on the donors’ tax returns.Yet that’s far from enough transparency for the would-be snoops, already irate because the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling upheld the First Amendment rights of individuals to come together, incorporate and engage in the battle of ideas.Big Brother’s allies in outfits the media routinely call “good government groups” argue that the real solution to the IRS scandal is to end the anonymity of donors to 501(c) (4) groups — and to prevent those “shadowy groups” from engaging in the battle of ideas.This demand to know who’s behind these organizations brings to mind a 50-year-old decision the U.S. Supreme Court rendered in a Florida case, Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee.The defendant was the Johns Committee. Chaired by Sen. Charley Johns, D-Starke, it left a trail of ruined lives as it conducted witch hunts in Florida’s university system and elsewhere to root out communists and homosexuals.The committee, suspecting that communists had infiltrated the NAACP’s Miami branch, ordered its president, the Rev. Theodore Gibson, to hand over the membership list. When he refused, he was cited for contempt, which the Florida Supreme Court shamefully upheld.Gibson appealed and finally prevailed when the U.S. Supreme Court saw the issue differently. In a 5-4 majority opinion by Justice Arthur Goldberg, the key passage is a welcome affirmation of privacy’s importance to Americans’ freedom of association:”This Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations. Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.”Those words should give pause to those clamoring for public disclosure of the identity of every individual who takes part in the battle of ideas. In a free country, all people should be able to keep their viewpoints private if they wish, and to do so without forfeiting their precious First Amendment rights.Robert F. Sanchez is the policy director at The James Madison Institute, a nonpartisan Tallahassee-based think tank founded in 1987.,0,6207226.story