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The Orwellian H.R. 1 “For the People Act” threatens the very existence of our First Amendment right to speak and associate freely.
The bill proposes a radical expansion of government control over political speech, including provisions that would force 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations to disclose their donors, force private digital companies to release customer lists, and broaden the definition of a lobbyist to include even the most basic political action.
Democrats are calling this an anti-corruption bill. It’s not. The H.R. 1 “For the People Act” is one of the most brazen assaults on free speech we’ve seen in decades. Passing this legislation would have a devastating and permanent chilling effect on political speech.
Political donations and speech are classified as protected speech under the First Amendment. There is no constitutional requirement for the source of that speech to reveal itself. In today’s hyper-polarized political climate, linking your identifying information to political speech comes with very serious risks.
We all know the business of politics is ugly. The public face of an organization or a set of values is made vulnerable to online harassment at best, and physical harm at worst. Putting yourself out there is dangerous. That’s why votes are kept private, charity donations can be made anonymously, and reporters enjoy the right to keep their sources anonymous.
A reasonable expectation of privacy for political speech exists to protect our safety. It’s been less than five years since conservative groups were targeted and persecuted by Lois Lerner and the IRS, and since then, the political climate has only become more toxic.
In the past few years, Americans watched in horror as a madman attempted to assassinate members of Congress during a baseball practice. They watched high school students wearing MAGA hats go viral online, resulting in death threats, doxxing, and bomb threats called into their school. Social media predators released the locations of the students' parents’ workplaces in hopes the deranged would show up to do them harm.
Americans watched congressional Democrats drag the reputation of public servants like Brett Kavanaugh through the mud in front of his loved ones and the world. They watched a Democratic socialist threaten to bring a gun to a MAGA event in Trump International Hotel, tweeting, “I am coming with a gun and I expect to get numerous bloodstained MAGA hats as trophies.”
The list goes on. Search the Internet for “Trump supporters beat up” and watch the results come pouring in.
This is what civic engagement looks like in 2019. People hack into your phone, they show up at your house, they leave horrific messages and images in your children’s social media feeds, and attempt to run your business out of town. Do you honestly think the average family would subject itself to this level of scrutiny and peril for a $100 donation or a Facebook ad? It’s just not worth it.
Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of anonymity in a free society. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay composed the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym Publius. Judge Robert Yates defended the ratification of the Bill of Rights using the pseudonym Brutus.
This right has been protected throughout our history. In 1958, the Supreme Court ruled the state of Alabama could not publicize the membership rolls of the NAACP. They knew that without the NAACP v. Alabama decision, thousands of black Americans would have been targeted by hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Now, Democrats have decided they have a right to your privacy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will tell you that grassroots organizations like FreedomWorks oppose H.R. 1 because we don’t want to lose donations. I hate to break it to you, but if America reaches a point where citizens cannot express political views without fearing for their lives, the FreedomWorks balance sheet will be the least of our worries.
Free speech is what separates the United States from third-world juntas. The endless stream of political noise on our television and in our social media feeds today is a privilege. As any survivors of socialist regimes like Venezuela and the former Soviet Union will tell you, the only thing more unsettling than political noise is political silence.