Nancy Pelosi’s HR 1 legislation doesn’t just impose changes on states that would make voter fraud easier to pull off.  It would also arguably impose unconstitutional requirements for non-profits to disclose donor names and addresses.  More than 20 state attorneys general have already filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the voting provisions.

The ironically entitled ‘For the People Act’ has passed the House, but faces dubious prospects in the nearly-evenly divided Senate, where 60 votes are needed to pass.

HR 1 expands what is considered political and electioneering speech – so basically even discussing an “issue of national significance” triggers additional disclosure laws.  There is an exception in the case of “Threat of harassment or reprisal,” proving that something constitutes “serious threats, harassment, or reprisals” is open to interpretation that is expected to favor government interests over citizen protection.

Even the American Civil Liberties Union — while praising certain aspects of the bill — noted in a Washington Post op-ed the group has reservations, writing that the bill: “contains significant flaws that are detrimental to the health of our democracy and will likely have unintended consequences on the political rights of noncitizen immigrants as well as many nonprofits, including civil rights organizations and other civil liberties movement builders.”

Two ACLU lawyers, Kate Ruane and Sonia Gill, who authored the piece continued, noting:

“We know from history that people engaged in politically charged issues become political targets and are often subject to threats of harassment or even violence.”

This is not the first time the ACLU has expressed concern with proposals to limit protected speech. A very similar bill, also called HR 1, introduced in 2019, was also opposed by the ACLU.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on more than one occasion that disclosure laws violate the First Amendment.

In 1958, in NAACP v. Alabama, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the First Amendment protected the free association rights of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its rank-and-file members, and therefore could not be forced to turn over lists of members.

While donors are not members of an organization necessarily, the requirement to turn over donor lists would seem to be a challenge to the right of free association.

As an article on the Middle Tennessee State University Website points out: “The NAACP’s legal team, led by Robert L. Carter, a future U.S. district court judge, argued that publicizing the lists would invite repression and economic reprisals against NAACP members.”

In the current political climate where people are routinely — and sometimes, violently — attacked for expressing their views, the disclosure requirements in HR 1 present a legitimate fear.

The bill would also effectively ban nonprofits from contacting a member of Congress or their staff about pending legislation – a direct assault on the right of Americans to petition their government.

The Kansas Justice Institute, along with parent company Kansas Policy Institute (which also owns the Sentinel) have signed on to an amicus brief with The Buckeye Institute in a lawsuit challenging similar laws at the state level.  More than 30 other public policy organizations also joined the brief in the combined cases of Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra and Thomas More Society v. Becerra. The brief calls upon the Supreme Court to protect the privacy and First Amendment rights of individuals who donate to charities and other nonprofit organizations.

“Simply put, the government ought not be in the business of keeping lists of people’s names, addresses, and charities they support,” said Robert Alt, president and chief executive officer of The Buckeye Institute in a release. “Recent history is replete with examples of public and private harassment and intimidation based upon this type of sensitive information. Government officials unnecessarily warehousing private information about the causes and organizations taxpayers support is antithetical to the First Amendment precisely because it chills free speech and association.”

Beginning in 2010, Vice President Kamala Harris — then California’s attorney general — announced that charities and tax-exempt organizations could not legally fundraise in California unless they first turned over a list containing the full names and addresses of their significant donors. 

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