2024 Leg Session, Columnists, Featured, Gold Dome, Jon Caldara, Uncategorized

Caldara: Colorado Senate Bill 129 and the case for donor privacy

(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)

Let’s set the stage with a question: Should Donald Trump become the dictator the left fears, do you want him to know who’s giving to organizations that criticize him?

There are reasons people don’t want others to know with whom they associate and the groups they support.

On Nov. 27, 2015, Robert Lewis Dear Jr. went to the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs and began shooting. Five hours later, a SWAT team crashed their vehicle into the building to capture him, but by then one police officer and two civilians were killed. Five police officers and four civilians were injured.

Many people give donations to Planned Parenthood. And the organization does not release a list of those donors. But let’s imagine they did.

It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine a scenario of someone like Dear using such information to show up at donors’ homes.

Planned Parenthood has a life-or-death reason to keep the list of their supporters private, especially in this highly polarized time.

And if donations weren’t private, those who would like to support Planned Parenthood would have reason to reconsider, and who could blame them.

This isn’t a modern concern. Those who funded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP, risked their lives. Founded in 1909, the NAACP focused on racial integration and ending lynching. For protection of their donors, Black and White, the NAACP kept, and still keeps, their donations private.

During the battles over integration the great state of Alabama wanted to pierce that wall of privacy and make those names public. It doesn’t take a genius to theorize they did this so people could threaten their donors and destroy the organization.

But the NAACP fought them all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing their members had a First Amendment right of association and speech, both of which would be greatly injured if they were forced to make their donations publicly available. In a ruling that potentially saved many lives, in 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

The harm to donors of controversial organizations might not be physical violence for it to be greatly damaging.

I run Independence Institute. We work for personal and economic freedom in Colorado, freeing us from the coercive power of the state.

For our nearly 40 years, many of our stances have been unpopular with powerful groups. Thus, we have always had a strict policy of donor privacy. If donors want to make their gifts public, well that’s their business.

Among our supporters are business owners who fear retaliation. Imagine a developer or any business that requires interaction and approval from various governmental districts. When found out by those in power an owner supports an unpopular or “dangerous” (to them) organization, it could end their business.

Anyone who has had to deal with getting building and operational permits through a city’s bureaucracy knows how fickle the process can be and how easily it is abused.

But it’s not just those who own businesses that worry about ramifications.

Independence Institute has been a fierce proponent of educational choice since its beginning. David S. D’Evelyn, one of our founders, was the driving force behind making charter schools here a reality. Charters have been perpetually under attack since.

We have donors who are public school teachers and give us maybe $50 a year. These teachers tell me they fear what would happen if their co-workers found out. Their work lives could be ruined. They’re very livelihood could be in jeopardy.

Last Thursday, I had a very odd experience. I went to the state Legislature to testify in favor of Senate Bill 24-129, which would clarify governments in Colorado cannot compel membership lists of, or donations to, organizations like mine.

The oddity? There supporting the bill was Mark Grueskin, longtime powerhouse lawyer who represents the wildly progressive organizations, including the teachers union, with whom I have battled for the last three decades. We disagree violently on public policy, but agree people need to express themselves and associate with whom they wish without fear.

This bill has support from conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Advance Colorado. But it is also supported by leftist groups such as Colorado Wins, ACLU of Colorado, One Colorado and Planned Parenthood for obvious reasons.

Transparency is for government. Privacy is for people.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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