Alaska voters are now in the midst of a new ranked voting system, established by the narrow victory of Ballot Measure 2 in 2020. Besides ranked voting, that initiative also created new requirements for reporting campaign contributions targeting what the initiative proponents called “dark money.”
Dark money is funds given to candidates by an entity which has, in turn, received donations from individuals. The dark money law requires individual donors, who gave more than an aggregate of $2000 per year, to be disclosed regardless of their intention or knowledge that the entity receiving their funds gave donations to candidates or causes. The disclosure includes the donor’s address, occupation, and employer, which is then accessible from Alaska Public Offices Commission records to the public.
The campaign contribution disclosure requirements are the perfect tool for the cancel culture to publicly vilify, harass and harm any individual whose contributions run counter to progressive dogma to the point that, because of the threat to their job, reputation, family and safety, many individuals will cease donating. This has, indeed, occurred already before the “open season” provision of Ballot Measure 2.
A group of Alaska voters and donors has sued the State in U.S. District Court to invalidate the new campaign law on the grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments. In particular, the Constitution recognizes a freedom of association protecting individuals from government disclosure requirements. In 1958 an Alabama law required the disclosure of membership lists of non-profit entities in the state including information on address, occupation and employment.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed suit on grounds similar to the Alaska voters in the current case. In NAACP vs. State of Alabama, (1958), the state argued that it had established only a disclosure system, and the harassment of NAACP members was the result of private, not state, action. The court was not fooled. In 1958, widespread racism embedded in law and custom existed in many areas, especially in southern states, and certainly in Alabama. The court’s decision striking down the Alabama law was unanimous.
The purpose of the dark money initiative is to provide such groups the personal information they need to persecute their enemies.
Three quotes from the NAACP decision apply fully to campaign disclosures today:
— “Inviolability of privacy in group associations may, in certain circumstances, be indispensable to the preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.”
— “Petitioner has made an uncontroverted showing that on past occasion revelation of the identify of its rank and file members has exposed these members to economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility.”
— “Immunity from state scrutiny of membership lists, which the Association claims on behalf of its members, is so related to the right of members to pursue their lawful private interest privately and to associate freely with others in so doing as to come within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The principles quoted above certainly apply to the Alaska case on political contributions. The right to a secret ballot is the cornerstone of our election system, but it doesn’t stop there. Citizens have a right to aid their chosen candidate or cause for the promotion of their beliefs, however out of sync with powerful political groups whose aim is to silence advocacy of such beliefs.
ALASKA WATCHMAN DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
At the time of NAACP vs. Alabama I was a college student. I joined the NAACP to show support for civil rights and the end of segregation. Fortunately, I was in Connecticut. Had I been in Alabama under its disclosure law, I would not have joined. To join would have jeopardized any chance for employment and a peaceful existence. Even under the pre-existing Alaska disclosure law, I have had donors decline to contribute to a group that represents their beliefs because of the fear of harm to their employment and career. During the 2008 California marriage amendment campaign, many individuals and groups who donated to that initiative were harassed and bullied because the LGBTQ faction outed them.
The purpose of the dark money initiative is to provide such groups the personal information they need to persecute their enemies. Under the principles enunciated by the US Supreme Court, a dark money law cannot stand. Moreover, the longstanding Alaska disclosure law falls under the same prohibition. If, as should be the case, the plaintiffs succeed in invalidating the dark money law, the entire system of forcing campaign contributions disclosure is at risk.
The views expressed here are those of the author.